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The Great Trinity Debate, Part 1: David Burke on God and Scripture

The Reclaiming the Mind Ministries staff will be responding to all comments allowing David and Rob the time to focus on their debate. If you wish to post questions and/or comments directly to them please wait until the open Q&A time following Part 6.
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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.thechristadelphians.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.”

30 Responses to “The Great Trinity Debate, Part 1: David Burke on God and Scripture”

  1. Dave,

    Thanks for your clear and thoughtful opening statement. I appreciated your telling us something about yourself. In general, I agree with what you wrote about exegetical method, with the qualifications I expressed in my opening statement about being open to possible paradoxes or apparent contradictions in Scripture.

    You made the following comment:

    “…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.”

    I cannot agree with this claim. Christianity did not contradict the revelation of God in the Jewish scriptures, but it did add something to our knowledge of God. Jesus himself said that with his coming the time had arrived for people to worship the Father in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). This statement would seem to indicate that there was some “truth” about God, and specifically about “the Father,” that the Jews had not yet known, even though they did know something about God. Jesus also stated that no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son reveals the Father (Matt. 11:27). This statement clearly means that prior to the coming of the Son, even though the Jews had some knowledge of God, they did not know the specific person of the Father. (The Old Testament occasionally refers to God as Israel’s “father,” but in light of Matthew 11:27 these references do not appear to refer to the person of God the Father whom Jesus said he came to reveal.) In the same verse, Jesus also said that at that point no one knew the Son except the Father. I take these statements to mean that until the Incarnation of the Son (John 1:14), the Jews, though they had a general knowledge of the one God, did not know the Father or the Son (or the Holy Spirit, about whom Jesus spoke in detail for the first time at the Last Supper). Thus, these statements by Jesus are consistent with the orthodox Christian belief that the New Testament presents a progressive revelation that goes beyond (not contrary to) the unqualified monotheism of the old covenant revelation by revealing the distinct persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    I am pleased that you are aware of my disagreement with the popular apologetic argument concerning the meaning of “one” in Deuteronomy 6:4. I disagree, though, with your criticism that when I wrote that the Bible never says that God is only one person I was committing the fallacy of arguing from silence. This would only be so if I had argued as follows:

    Premise 1: The Bible never says that God is only one person.
    Conclusion: Therefore, God is not only one person.

    That’s an argument from silence, all right, but it is not my argument. Rather, my argument was and is as follows:

    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.

    The point that you tagged as an argument from silence is not the premise of an argument for the Trinity or against Unitarianism. It is an assertion that there is a lack of any biblical defeater to the premise that in the Bible more than one person is identified as God. (A “defeater” in logic is a point of fact that shows a claim to be false.) Given the absence of any defeater to the Trinitarian claim, the positive evidence that the Bible identifies three distinct persons as God is sound support for the conclusion that God is three persons.

    You ask:

    “(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?”

    These are good questions. It is more a matter of what I would *not* expect Scripture to say. I would not expect the Bible to identify the Father as God and the Son as God, for example, if Unitarianism were true. If *all we had* were statements that asserted or implied that God was a single being, I do not deny that Unitarianism would be a plausible inference. They would not disprove Trinitarianism, but they would be consistent with Unitarianism and conducive, in the absence of statements identifying more than one person as God, with Unitarianism in a way that they would not be (under similar circumstances) with Trinitarianism. In this qualified sense I would agree that Unitarians might plausibly adduce monotheistic statements in the Bible that refer to God as one being as evidence for their position. This is why it is for the most part plausible and reasonable for Jews to infer a Unitarian conception of God from their Bible (although even here I would argue that they have to ignore or massage some of the texts).

    Allow me to use an analogy (not an analogy to the Trinity, but an analogy to the methodological point at issue). Beginning in the seventeenth century, scientists debated whether light was a wave or a particle. Huygens said light was a wave; Newton said light was a stream of particles. Some experiments right through the nineteenth century supported Huygens, while other experiments supported Newton. Eventually, scientists concluded that light had functions of both waves *and* particles. As if that were not bad enough, physicists now widely maintain that all physical objects have a “wave-particle duality,” as counterintuitive and seemingly contradictory as that is. Now, if you were to ask a physicist, “Are you saying that there is no evidence that light is a wave?” he would have to answer, “No, I am not saying that, because of course there is such evidence.” If you were to ask him what sort of evidence would show that light is a wave, he could specify such evidence. But then he would add, “But there is no evidence that light is *merely* a wave and has no particle functions, whereas there is evidence that light has both wave and particle functions.”

    What I am getting at here is this: The statement that you quoted from my (25-year-old) article “Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity” really needs a verbally minor yet significant qualification. It would have been more precise if I had written, “nowhere in Scripture are we ever told that God is *merely* one person.” Given *only* monotheistic statements like Deuteronomy 6:4 and texts referring to God using singular pronouns, the inference of something like Unitarianism is reasonable. But this inference is subject to defeaters, and such defeaters we have, especially in the New Testament. On this point, you wrote:

    “Throughout the entire Bible, God is consistently referred to by means of singular pronouns, clearly denoting a single being and therefore a single person.”

    In the context of a debate with a Trinitarian, the above statement seems to me to be an instance of begging the question. The singular pronouns do indeed denote a single being, but it does not follow that God can only be a single person. This is a possible and even plausible inference, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, but it is not a necessary inference.

    Oddly, after criticizing my statement discussed above as an argument from silence, you presented the following argument:

    “These words are only ever applied to God. They are never applied to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit.”

    How is this not an argument from silence?

    You wrote:

    “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.”

    I think we can all see where you are going with this, as undoubtedly you regard the doctrine of the Incarnation as an instance of such a self-contradictory state of affairs. But in the Incarnation, God is not simultaneously God and not-God. God the Son is always God, but he assumes human nature (which is not divine nature) and unites it to his person, so that he is God incarnate. If we need to get very technical here (which perhaps we do), it might be misleading (though for informal speech it usually will do fine) to speak of Christ as “both God and man.” Such language could be misunderstood to mean that Christ is two beings, one of them God and the other of them a man, or (as you seem to understand) that Christ is both God and man at the same time and in the same respect (i.e., “God and not-God”). This is why many theologians prefer the locution “the God-man” to the more informal “God and man.”

    In general, I agree with the rest of what you say about the divine attributes, although I do not regard omnipresence as “superfluous.”

    Thanks again for your opening post. I think we’re off to a good start.

  2. Rob (Bowman)
    Are you familiar with the work of Yoel Natan ‘the Jewish Trinity’, I would really value your opinion on it, if you aren’t…….I’d encourage you to get it!!!

  3. 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.

  4. Comment deleted.

  5. For those of you who want to discuss more, there is a thread set up at Theologica: http://theologica.ning.com/forum/topics/the-great-trinity-debate

  6. Great start. Thank you both.

  7. Dave, I believe you’ve confused the Nestorian Schism of the 5th century, with the Great Schism of 1054.

  8. DID THE OT SAINTS KNOW THE FATHER?

    Dave,

    I’m breaking up my responses in separate comments for ease of reference. This comment defends my claim that John 4:20-24 and Matthew 11:27 show that people in the Old Testament did not know the specific person of the Father.

    Regarding John 4:20-24, I specifically stated that the Jews “did know something about God” and that Jesus’ revelation “did not contradict the revelation of God in the Jewish scriptures.” So your emphasis on “the Jews’ correct knowledge” is not a relevant objection to my argument. Furthermore, what Jesus said was not that one day the Samaritans would join the Jews in worshipping the Father in spirit and truth, but that a time was coming when true worshippers would worship the Father in spirit and truth. This statement must mean that there was some truth that even the Jews had not yet learned. Your assertion that verse 22 means “that the Jews’ knowledge of God was correct and could potentially lead to salvation” really misses the point, I am sorry to say. What Jesus said was that “salvation is *from* the Jews.” What Jesus is saying here is not that the Jews had enough knowledge for salvation while the Samaritans did not, but rather that the salvation God was bringing to the whole world was coming from the Jews. In making this point, Jesus is leading up to revealing himself, the Jewish Messiah and Lord, as the Savior of the world (John 4:25-26, 42). Thus, Jesus’ statements here must be understood Christologically.

    I’m satisfied that my point about Matthew 11:27 stands. Jesus explicit said, “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” You can’t know the Father unless the Son reveals him to you. Your reference to the lack of any mention of the Spirit in this text is an argument from silence and misses the progressive nature of biblical revelation. The revelation of the distinct person of the Holy Spirit was yet to come.

  9. A PRIORI ARGUMENT?

    Dave,

    I will actually not be attempting to bring together a case for the doctrine of the Trinity per se until week 5 of this debate. Only after I have shown that the NT identifies the Son as God and identifies the Holy Spirit as God yet a person distinct from the Father will I be ready to draw the threads of the argument together in support of a specifically Trinitarian theology. The definitions of “person,” “being,” and even “God” that you are asking me to provide really come at the end of the argument, not at the beginning. That is, my contention is that Trinitarian systematic theology employs a conceptual approach to these matters as a way of integrating and explaining what the Bible says about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We don’t impose these categories or definitions on the Bible; rather, we developed these categories and definitions in response to what we found in the Bible.

    On this point, I had stated that from the fact that God is one being (as signified in the use of singular pronouns for God) it does not necessarily follow that God is one person (i.e., unipersonal). You commented:

    “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.

    I have a feeling this is going to come up a lot. Your characterization of how Trinitarianism works is so pervasive among anti-Trinitarians that it must seem obviously correct to you. It isn’t. The argument is not a priori, as you claim. It is explicitly a posteriori: In view of the biblical evidence that the Son and the Holy Spirit, though both personally distinct from the Father, is each God, and yet there is only one God (one divine being), we Trinitarians infer that God’s one being is evidently not unipersonal. The argument reasons from the biblical data to the being/person distinction, not the other way around. You may think the argument is flawed, but characterizing it as a priori is simply incorrect.

    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 conclusions.

    By the way, if there was an unstated premise in the argument you critiqued, that premise was “Whatever the Bible says is true.” I think we agree on this premise.

  10. THE PROBLEM WITH PRONOUNS

    Dave, you wrote:

    “*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.”

    Actually, pronouns count singular *referents*, which may be persons, beings, or collective entities named for one individual. In some cases, only our knowledge from outside the passage allows us to know whether the referent is a single person or not. For example, when David prays, “Redeem Israel, O God, from all HIS troubles” (Ps. 25:22), or when the Psalmist says, “He will redeem Israel from all HIS iniquities” (Ps. 130:8), nothing in either psalm actually tells us that “his” refers to a nation of many individuals. This is because “Israel” in the Bible is the name both of a man and of a nation—something we learn simply by comparing biblical passages in which the name appears. These uses of the singular pronoun refer to a collective group of human beings, corporately, as if they were one individual. We neither “impose” this idea “a priori” on such texts nor find explicit exegetical proof within the text on its own that this is the case. Rather, we bring to those texts information from *other* texts that we know qualify these occurrences of singular pronouns.

    I see no reason why we cannot do something analogous in the case of singular pronouns used of God. If we find other texts identifying three distinct persons as God (referring to the same Deity who made the world and is the proper object of worship), it is reasonable to understand that the Deity to whom these texts refer includes those three distinct persons. It is also possible that in some contexts the singular pronouns and the nouns or names referring to God have as their referent specifically just one of these distinct persons. This would clearly be the case where the text refers to God or Jehovah as distinct from the Messiah (under whatever description).

    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. (In some contexts, we may not be able to make such a distinction.) It could even happen in the same context, though that would be unusual. As an analogy, the name “Israel” sometimes refers both to the individual man and to the corporate nation of people in the very same sentence. “But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel [the nation] and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing will die of all that belongs to the sons of Israel [the man]” (Ex. 9:4 NASB). Again, God is not a corporate group of individuals, so this is only an analogy with a very limited purpose, which is to make the point that one cannot simply read off a uniform meaning or connotation from a single word.

    You find it “revealing” that Trinitarians think words might have somewhat meanings or at least implications when applied to God that they never have otherwise. Specifically, you fault us for thinking that every individual being is just one person in Scripture, except for God. You write, “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.” I do not find this embarrassing in the least, because my theology prepares me for the unusual and unprecedented when it comes to God. 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 statement may be true (it has few if any exceptions, if memory serves), but it is irrelevant, because there is nothing wrong with asserting that God, unlike creatures, can be present with others without being *located* at the place where they are located. The critic who says we are “redefining” the word “with” to fit our preconceived theology would be making the same type of argument—and making the same mistake—as you do against the Trinitarian claim that singular pronouns when used for God do not necessarily prove that God is unipersonal.

    Continuing on the subject of pronouns, you cited the NET Bible’s footnote to Genesis 1:26 as a “scholarly treatment” showing that these pronouns do not even hint at a plurality within God. I like the NET Bible, too, but I don’t agree with this particular footnote. The note even alludes to some of the difficulties for the view that the plural pronouns “us” and “our” refer to the members of the heavenly court (angels, etc.) along with God.

    (1) This view entails that the angels participated in the work of creation, which the Bible flatly contradicts (e.g., Isa. 44:24). Saying that the angels participated by “offering praise” and citing Job 38:7 is not a cogent reply to this difficulty. (Job 38:7 refers to the angels cheering when God laid the foundations of the world, not when he made human beings.)

    (2) This view entails that human beings are made in the image of the angels as well as the image of God. The NET Bible footnote confuses the issue by suggesting that angels might be in God’s “image” in some sense. This confuses the issue because the very concept of “image” here is of a physical, visible representative; Genesis is saying that human beings are made as physical image-bearers of the invisible God.

    (3) Genesis 1:27 is epexegetical of 1:26, stating that God (not God and the angels) made man in the image of God (not the image of God and the angels).

    The above considerations, in my judgment, constitute a strong case against the God-and-angels interpretation of Genesis 1:26.

    In addition, there is some support for the view that the plural pronouns in verse 26 reflect a plurality within the one God in verse 27, where God makes “man” (ADAM, a term that also functions as the name of the male individual), explained to include both the male and the female. Thus, on a finite level the two personal beings of the male and the female who together in the singular ADAM “image” or reflect a plurality of persons in the singular ELOHIM.

    I defended the claim that Genesis 1:26-27 provides some implicit support for the doctrine of the Trinity in Part II of my Outline Study on the Trinity, http://www.irr.org/trinity-part-II.html. So you were mistaken when you predicted on another website that I would be “averse” to any implicit support for the Trinity in the Old Testament, http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1715#comments. And contrary to your assertion in this blog, the view I am defending of Genesis 1:26-27 is not driven by a “need to locate passages with plural pronouns.” My theology would be just fine without such texts. I just happen to think that the three occurrences of these divine plurals (Gen. 1:26-27; 3:22; 11:7) happen to fit the Trinitarian position and are not satisfactorily explained in any other way I have seen proposed or defended.

  11. ON ARGUING FROM SILENCE—MODESTLY

    Dave,

    You had written: “These words are only ever applied to God. They are never applied to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit.” I asked: How is this not an argument from silence? You replied:

    “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.”

    A tentative or evidential argument from silence, as distinguished from a dogmatic or deductive argument from silence, is still an argument from silence.

  12. LOGIC, BIBLICISM, AND THE HYPOSTATIC UNION

    Dave,

    It appears that I was correct in saying that your criticisms of the Incarnation presuppose that what it teaches is “that Christ is both God and man at the same time and in the same respect (i.e., ‘God and not-God’).” All of your attempts to poke logical holes in this doctrine assume this misunderstanding of the doctrine. If you come to grips with the fact that the doctrine maintains that Christ is God in one respect and man in another, the logical critique you have presented will dissipate (though perhaps you will try to mount another such critique).

    As I have explained, I don’t do doctrine this way. I don’t begin my assessment of a doctrine by looking for logical holes in it or by looking for logical neatness in it, either. Rather, I begin by looking at its proposed biblical support. If the Bible appears to teach the doctrine, I then go to work trying to understand its coherence logically to the best of the ability of my pea-brain mind. Augustine famously described this theological method as faith seeking understanding.

    You wrote: “These and similar problems have plagued Trinitarianism for centuries and remain unresolved to this day. They will be addressed in Weeks 2 & 3.” That’s fine, up to a point, but I would remind you that your primary task in weeks 2 and 3 is to present a positive case for your Biblical Unitarian view of Jesus Christ, not simply to present problems for the Trinitarian view of Jesus Christ.

    You wrote:

    “Now that you’ve introduced the hypostatic union into our debate, I must request that you demonstrate that this concept is purely Biblical. 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.”

    Remember, though, that my position is that concepts that the Bible does not itself explicitly articulate, but that follow from everything that the Bible does say, are legitimate concepts in Christian theology. Thus, I will not be attempting to demonstrate that any of the biblical authors articulated the concept of the hypostatic union. I do maintain and will argue that several of the biblical authors spoke of Jesus as both God and man, and that the concept of the Incarnation follows from what they say about Jesus in this regard. Your claim, apparently, is that even if I can show that the Bible teaches that Jesus is both God and man, I will have somehow failed in my argument unless I can show that the Bible explicitly teaches _homoousios_ and the hypostatic union. But your claim here wrongly presupposes that I am under obligation to show that biblical writers (anachronistically) espoused an explicitly Nicaean Trinitarianism and an explicitly Chalcedonian Christology. I am under no such obligation. On the other hand, if I am able to show from the Bible that Jesus is God, your case for Biblical Unitarianism will certainly have failed!

    These methodological errors in your critique are on display in your closing paragraph:

    “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.”

    This is a fascinating claim. 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. I do not need to prove that the biblical authors used the explicit Trinitarian formulations and concepts of Nicaea or Chalcedon to show that Trinitarianism better accounts for the biblical evidence than Unitarianism (which is all I really have to do here). I have already stated forthrightly that I do not accept the Biblicist premise that Christian theology is limited to concepts that the Bible explicitly teaches. Despite your disavowal of Biblicism (see my response in the comments section of my opening post), it appears you do espouse a form of Biblicism. My position is that if a concept implicitly follows from what the Bible teaches, that concept is theologically valid.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.”

  17. 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 mind 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 you like it or not (and even whether you 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
  18. DID THE OT SAINTS KNOW THE FATHER?

    Dave,

    You wrote:

    “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 predict that differences over methodology will continue to arise.

    You wrote:

    “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.”

    I agreed that the Jews interpret the OT to teach that God is unipersonal. I did not agree that this is what the OT actually means. Your argument is unsound. It is like the following argument. “If the OT revealed that Messiah would come just once to destroy the wicked (and you’ve already accepted that this is how the Jews interpreted the OT) and if Jesus revealed that as Messiah he was coming twice, first to die and then to destroy the wicked, then there is no logical basis for claiming that ‘Jesus’ revelation did not contradict the revelation in the Jewish scriptures.’ A contradiction necessarily arises.”

    By the way, I think I should correct what I said about the Jews’ understanding of the OT teaching. They clearly did understand that the LORD was one God, and they clearly held that the LORD God was one “being” (see Ex. 3:14 LXX). But on reflection I wonder if it isn’t anachronistic to assert that the Jews in Jesus’ day thought of the LORD as one “person,” i.e., as unipersonal. Not only would they not have used the word “person,” but the issue of whether the one Divine Being was unipersonal or tripersonal simply had not come up. If you assume that each and every being, including the Divine Being, must be one and only one person, then on that assumption of course the ancient Jewish view of God as one Being would entail that God is one person. The problem is that this assumption introduces a concept (that of person) that the ancient Jews did not have (i.e., as an explicitly held and articulated concept).

    I don’t agree with your objections to my understanding of John 4, but I will resist the impulse to repeat myself. On Matthew 11:27, however, you claim:

    “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.”

    Perhaps I’ve missed it, although I went back over your previous comments twice, but I did not see any citations from Trinitarian commentators on Matthew 11:27. Could you please quote for me the portion of your comments where you demonstrated that my exegesis of Matthew 11:27 has no support from Trinitarian commentators? All I see is a generalized assertion about Trinitarian commentators saying that Matthew 11:27 is about the relationship of the Father and the Son.

    You wrote:

    “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.”

    Dave, I had already answered my own question in my first comment here:

    “This statement clearly means that prior to the coming of the Son, even though the Jews had some knowledge of God, they did not know the specific person of the Father.”

  19. A PRIORI ARGUMENT?

    Dave,

    I’m unhappy to see the direction you took with your comment (#16 above) in reply to mine entitled “A Priori Argument?” I am not being “evasive,” nor am I trying to present “a moving target,” by choosing to explain the Trinitarian distinction between being and person only after establishing the biblical basis for the core affirmations that the doctrine of the Trinity seeks to articulate. My method is a pedagogical approach that asks you to “wait and see,” not a stratagem that asks you to “catch me if you can.” You wrote:

    “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.”

    Of course not. What do you think I intend to do in parts 2, 3, 4, and 5 of this debate? My plan is to present the a posteriori argument throughout the debate. I didn’t claim to have presented the whole case in the introductory post. And you have misconstrued what I said, since I did not say that my a posteriori reasoning was an “argument from the Shema,” but rather that the argument for the Trinity uses a posteriori reasoning.

    I had stated that I would expect a positive case for Biblical Unitarianism to show from Scripture, among other things, that “the Holy Spirit is the Father.” You commented:

    “Within the space of a single sentence you have shown that you do not actually understand the Christology you are attempting to debate.”

    You went on to point out that in your opening statement you had stated that in your theology the Holy Spirit is not God himself. I appreciate you pointing this out (though not the way you pointed it out). However, to be precise the issue here was not your “Christology” but with pneumatology. Furthermore, what you are not acknowledging is that Biblical Unitarianism is itself something of a “moving target” on the subject of the Holy Spirit. For example, one of the websites that you recommended prior to the beginning of our debate was the Biblical Unitarian site. According to an article on the Holy Spirit on that website, the term Holy Spirit “can refer either to (a) one of the names of God, one which emphasizes His power in operation, or (b) the gift of God.” If the Holy Spirit can be one of the names of God, and if God is the Father and him alone, then the Holy Spirit can be another name for the Father. The Christadelphian “Apostolic Statement of Faith” (which you also recommended) states that the Holy Spirit “is part of the Father himself,” which comes very close to meaning that the Holy Spirit is the Father. Even the description that some Biblical Unitarians give of the Holy Spirit as the “mind of God” or the “power of God” could be taken to mean that the Holy Spirit is in some respect identical to the Father, unless God’s mind or power can be distinguished from God. So the issue here is complicated by some disagreement among Biblical Unitarians as to how to define the Holy Spirit as well as some ambiguity in the way many Biblical Unitarians explain the Holy Spirit.

    You wrote:

    “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.”

    “Persistent”? Dave, I used this term ONCE in the comments on this page and ONCE in my responses to your comments on my opening statement. I only use the term “anti-Trinitarians” when referring to a broader group than Unitarians (i.e., it includes other groups that deny the Trinity, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses), and only in the context where it is opposition to the Trinity specifically that is in view. I used the term “non-Trinitarians” several times in my opening statement, again in reference to all Christian-based groups that deny the Trinity, not just in reference to Biblical Unitarians.

  20. THE PROBLEM WITH PRONOUNS

    Dave,

    You wrote:

    “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.”

    No, I accept both the monotheistic texts of the OT (and the NT) and the Christological and Pneumatological texts of the NT and seek to allow all of these texts to inform my understanding of God’s identity. I understand the monotheistic texts to inform us that God is one being. This is a crucial element, a core affirmation, of the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus, these passages do inform my understanding of God’s identity. They just don’t inform my understanding in the way you think they should.

    My opinion is that you are projecting here, Dave, because everything I have seen so far from you leads me to conclude that you bring your previously established conclusion that you base on the OT monotheistic texts and use it to “trump” the NT evidence. Please, by all means, prove me wrong about this if you can.

    You continue to insist “that a singular pronoun does not denote multiple persons” despite the evidence I presented that in some cases a singular pronoun can refer to a group of multiple persons (e.g., Ps. 25:22; 130:8). Your objections to this evidence are irrelevant. You say that it is clear “from the context” of these verses that “Israel” refers to the nation, not the man. In fact, it is not “the context” (i.e., the literary context, something in the psalm) that tells you this, but your historical background knowledge. In any case, it doesn’t really matter, because the point stands that the singular pronoun refers to a group of persons. You also criticize the point by noting that “Israel” is a name whereas “God” is not. This is also irrelevant; for one thing, the referent of the singular pronouns for God is more often than not the name YHWH (Jehovah). Again, your absolute statement that a singular pronoun always refers to a single person turns out not to be correct.

    Regarding the plural pronouns in Genesis 1:26, if you agree with me that angels did not assist in creation, then those plural pronouns in Genesis 1:26 cannot refer to God and the angels collectively. This is hardly irrelevant! As for Isaiah 44:24, its statement that YHWH alone created the world is *essential* to the doctrine of the Trinity. You know full well, I’m sure, that Trinitarianism recognizes the LORD God alone as the sole Creator and Maker of the universe.

    As to why these plural pronouns occur just a few times and only in the early chapters of Genesis, see my suggested explanation in my outline study of the Trinity (http://www.irr.org/trinity-part-II.html).

  21. LOGIC, BIBLICISM, AND THE HYPOSTATIC UNION

    Dave,

    I not only said that your argument misconstrued the hypostatic union, but I explained how your argument presupposed a specific misunderstanding. Your response ignored that explanation, so I consider my explanation unanswered.

    Regarding my obligation (as you see it) to show that Trinitarianism is biblically derived, you wrote:

    “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.”

    This is a peculiar question. Docetism is precluded biblically by the simple observation that the NT states explicitly that Jesus Christ, the Word, came in the flesh (John 1:14; 1 John 4:2-3) and that Jesus was a man (e.g., Acts 2:22; 17:31; 1 Tim. 2:5). John’s statements, according to most biblical scholars, were specifically refuting something like Docetism, if not Docetism itself. Perhaps I don’t understand your question.

    You then tried to defend your claim that proving that the Father is God, the Son is God, and Holy Spirit is God would not prove the Trinity. You suggested that these propositions might be consistent with both the Trinity and Modalism or Monarchianism. However, your argument here overlooks the fact that my core propositions included not only the three you listed but also the proposition that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each someone other than the other two.

    I suggest, with all due respect, that you go about trying to prove Biblical Unitarianism in whatever way you choose, and let me develop my argument for Biblical Trinitarianism in the way that I choose. Your job is to defend your position and try to show that it accounts for the biblical teaching better than Trinitarianism. My job is to defend my position and try to show that it accounts for the biblical teaching better than Biblical Unitarianism. If my argument demolishes your position—as you admit would be the case if I demonstrated that those three propositions are biblical—and supports key propositions of the doctrine of the Trinity, but falls short of demonstrating every aspect of the doctrine of the Trinity, I will have won the debate handily!

  22. Dave, I commend your ability to follow and deconstruct these extraordinary man-made theological arguments and ‘strifes about words’ which groan with the weight of centuries of human philosophy. They just cross my eyes! The Pharisees of old also smothered the clear teaching of scripture with layers of concentric word mazes, and regarded the everyday folk as “accursed people who know not the law”. Jesus described them as blind because they claimed to see.

    This debate doesn’t need to be ‘won’……it’s only vital that TRUTH is presented…….what people do with it is up to them. Dave, keep on in humility, with clearing the overgrowth to reveal the Word of God in its beauty and simplicity and power, and to God be the glory.

  23. To argue the Trinitarian position, it plainly apparent that one must first accept it as fact, and gradually develop it from a rather complicated set of interpretations that will lead to the proof (parts brought together on the 5th week of the debate) Indeed – rather a bizzare way to argue a position that is supposed to represent the common faith of first century christians. Almost every NT epistle seems to begin with the simplicity of Christian belief – just read it for what it says.

  24. Robert’s dismissal of Dave’s concerns about hypostatic union by claiming that he has “already explained it” is premature. I would also like to know how Jesus could be “man in one sense, and God in another sense” and not be God and man simultaniously.

  25. My response to Rob’s counter-rebuttal in this thread starts here.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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