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The Great Trinity Debate, Part 1: Rob Bowman 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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Once again, I wish to express my gratitude to David Burke for his willingness to invest his time and energy in this important debate. In my opening statement, I will explain the assumptions I bring to the subject regarding Scripture and the nature of God. Along the way, I will address certain a priori objections to the doctrine of the Trinity that non-Trinitarians commonly raise.

Before proceeding, I should briefly define the position I will be defending in this debate. The doctrine of the Trinity is that doctrine that affirms that there is one God, the LORD (YHWH, Jehovah), a single divine being who exists eternally in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This doctrine of the Trinity is a conceptual framework or system for affirming the following six core propositions drawn from the Bible:

1. There is one (true, living) God, identified as the Creator.
2. This one God is the one divine being called YHWH (or Jehovah, the LORD) in the Old Testament.
3. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is God, the LORD.
4. The Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is God, the LORD.
5. The Holy Spirit is God, the LORD.
6. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each someone other than the other two.

In this debate, I will be seeking to defend the doctrine of the Trinity by showing that each of these six propositions is taught in the Bible.

Authority of Scripture

As a conservative evangelical Protestant, I firmly hold to the full inspiration of the Bible, specifically the 66 books of the Protestant canon of Scripture. My understanding of biblical inspiration and authority is classically evangelical. The first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, “Of the Holy Scripture” (1646), remains an exemplary statement of the Protestant understanding of Scripture. More recently, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978) gives an excellent, representative definition and exposition of the evangelical view of the nature of Scripture. While neither of these statements is itself inspired or inerrant, I refer to them as superb expressions of the evangelical view of Scripture that I heartily endorse. These confessions, along with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (1982), also provide excellent statements about the proper approach to the interpretation of Scripture. Due to limitations of space, I will postpone some of my comments about hermeneutics until later parts of the debate as the relevant hermeneutical issues arise. Two excellent textbooks on biblical hermeneutics are Grant Osborne’s The Hermeneutical Spiral (2006) and Interpreting the New Testament Text, edited by Darrell Bock and Buist Fanning (2006).

Evangelicals commonly refer to their view of Scripture using the Reformation slogan sola scriptura. While I rally behind this slogan along with my fellow evangelicals, we need to distinguish between sola scriptura and what some people call Biblicism, or perhaps we could call it hyper-Biblicism. Biblicism radicalizes sola scriptura in a way that goes beyond the view that all doctrine must be biblically grounded to the view that all doctrine must be spelled out explicitly in the Bible. There are two issues here that I wish to address in some detail.

Using Words Not Found in the Bible

Biblicism sometimes takes the form of maintaining that we may only express biblical truths using biblical terminology. Of course, this is a common a priori objection to the doctrine of the Trinity. There are several problems with the claim.

First, the restriction against using extrabiblical words is itself not taught in Scripture. The Bible never states that in expressing doctrine or theology we must restrict ourselves to using words found in the Bible. The closest the Bible comes to making such a statement would be Paul’s injunction to Timothy, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13 ESV). Here Paul refers Timothy to his “sound words” as a pattern or example of good teaching. Paul did not mean that Timothy was to use only the words that he heard Paul use. If he had, this might have precluded Timothy from using words found in other parts of the Bible that did not happen to be in Paul’s vocabulary!

Second, taken literally the restriction against using extrabiblical words would require us all to speak in Hebrew or Greek. If we may only use biblical words to speak about doctrinal matters, then we must use only words in Hebrew or Greek (or those Aramaic words that happen to be in the Bible). Not only is this patently absurd, but we have clear biblical precedent against any such restriction in the miracle at Pentecost, when the disciples spoke about God’s works to the people in Jerusalem in over a dozen different languages (Acts 2:5-11).

Third, non-Trinitarians typically use extrabiblical terminology to articulate their positions. For example, the terms Bible, biblical, and extrabiblical are all extrabiblical! So is the term Unitarian, although it is built on the word unity, which the Bible does use (though not in the context of the nature of God or in reference to the issue under dispute). Anthony Buzzard, a noted advocate of biblical Unitarianism, uses the term unipersonal to describe God (e.g., Doctrine of the Trinity, 15), even though this word is not in the Bible. He also describes Jesus as God’s “agent” or “representative” (43-46), terms that the Bible never applies to Jesus. Kermit Zarley (aka Servetus the Evangelical) dubs his position “exclusive God-in-Christ Christology” and describes it as a “functional” Christology (Restitution of Jesus Christ, xii).

Fourth, using different words to express and correlate ideas is a necessary part of learning. Hopefully, all of us remember being taught in school to express ideas in our own words. If we merely repeat biblical words, phrases, or statements without expressing their meaning in words that address disputed issues, we will do nothing to show that we have understood what we are repeating. If I say, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God,” what do you know about my beliefs? You would know precious little, beyond the fact that I believe in some sort of God. I might mean that Jesus is a highly advanced extraterrestrial, or the literal offspring of Heavenly Father and Mary, or a man who manifested the cosmic dimension called the Son of God, or the first angel God created, or a man elevated to semi-divine status after his death and resurrection, or the eternal Second Person of the Trinity.

Using Concepts or Formulations Not Explicit in the Bible

A somewhat more subtle, if still a priori, objection to the doctrine of the Trinity is that the concept or formulation of the doctrine is not biblical. The argument runs as follows: The non-Trinitarian points out that Trinitarian scholars routinely acknowledge that the Bible does not teach the formal, systematic doctrine of the Trinity; that the concept of the Trinity is nowhere explicit in Scripture; that the biblical writers did not themselves think of God as triune or conceptualize God as triune; and so forth. The non-Trinitarian, aghast that such scholars would continue to adhere to a doctrine they admit they cannot find in the Bible, and commending them for their “candor,” concludes that tradition, creed, or ecclesiastical authority has evidently trumped Scripture for Trinitarians.

This objection also fails, for reasons similar to those mentioned above regarding the objection against using extrabiblical terminology. All non-Trinitarians adhere to some concepts or formulations that are not explicit anywhere in the Bible.

For example, the concept of two “canons” of Scripture, the Old Testament and the New Testament, is not formally, explicitly, or directly presented anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, many scholars argue that the very concept of “canonicity” is something that developed in the postbiblical era. I think that claim is debatable, but what is beyond debate is that the division of Scripture into the Old and New Testaments is not a concept explicit in the Bible.

Specific concepts that non-Trinitarians present in opposition to the doctrine of the Trinity also are typically not explicit in the Bible. For example, no biblical writer sets forth the distinction that Biblical Unitarians make between “the Holy Spirit” as another name for God the Father and “holy spirit” as the impersonal spiritual power of divine nature that God gives to believers (see “The Giver and the Gift”). There may or may not be something to this conceptual distinction, but it is at best an inference, not something that any biblical writer sets forth explicitly.

Systematic theology is an intellectual activity or discipline that seeks to answer specific questions that arise from the reading of Scripture. The Bible may not answer these questions explicitly, but it may provide information or statements from which the theologian infers an answer. Did God create the world ex nihilo (out of nothing), ex Deo (from God’s own being), or ex materia (from preexisting matter)? The Bible does not answer this question explicitly, but the question, once asked, is unavoidable. The theologian does his best to answer it in a way most faithful to the teaching that the Bible does present. What is the relationship between the second coming of Christ and the thousand-year period mentioned in Revelation 20? One may adhere to amillennialism, premillennialism, or postmillennialism, but none of these is set forth explicitly in the Bible. Some of these questions are more important than others, but the point is that such questions are extremely common in theology and no serious student of Christian doctrine can or should avoid them altogether.

The Westminster Confession of Faith articulates the principle I am defending here:

“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men” (WCF 1.6, emphasis added).

Again, the Bible, not this or any other confession, is the authority, but the above statement nicely expresses the historic evangelical Protestant understanding of the authority of Scripture. It realistically and faithfully recognizes that the authority of Scripture is such that not only what it explicitly states, but also what logically follows from what it states, is true and important for believers to know and accept.

In short, sola scriptura means that all doctrine must derive from the teachings of Scripture, not that we are restricted to using words found in the Bible or to using concepts that one or more biblical writers explicitly formulated.

The Nature of God

I accept a classically orthodox Christian understanding of the nature and attributes of God. There are many excellent systematic theology textbooks that discuss these attributes of God, such as Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology (1998) and Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (1994). On the doctrine of God specifically, see especially John Feinberg’s No One Like Him (2001) and John Frame’s Doctrine of God (2002). There are some minor differences between Feinberg and Frame (e.g., Feinberg holds to a linear everlasting understanding of God’s relation to time, while Frame holds to divine “omnitemporality,” which is closer to the classic “timelessness” view). Nevertheless, both are excellent textbooks on the subject, carefully examining what the Bible says in constructive engagement with other theologians. Among older, popular works that I have found personally helpful, I should mention Arthur W. Pink’s The Attributes of God (Baker, 1975) and A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy (Harper, 1961).

The Oneness and Uniqueness of God

A couple of the divine attributes bear closer examination due to their importance for our subject. One of these is the uniqueness of God. The Bible states explicitly, in both Testaments, that there is only one God. It says this in several ways. In the Hebrew Bible, it states that there is one EL and one ELOHIM, that there is no other EL or ELOHIM besides YHWH (Jehovah), and so forth. The New Testament states that there is one theos, or only one true theos.

The Jewish creed, classically, is the statement in Deuteronomy called the Shema (“Hear”), which says, “Hear, O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH one” (Deut. 6:4), or, as most English translations today read, “the LORD our God, the LORD is one” (ESV, JPS, NIV, NKJV; NASB is similar). This verse tells us, first, that Israel has one God, namely, Jehovah. This God, Jehovah, is “one.” The sense in which Jehovah is “one” is not specified, at least not explicitly in this sentence. It could mean that there is only one deity or divine being named Jehovah. It might mean that Jehovah is a single being (which amounts to the same thing). It also might mean that Jehovah, as Israel’s God, is to occupy the first, primary, most important place in their lives. As we might put it in idiomatic English, “Jehovah is the One” or even “Jehovah is Number One!” This connotation actually has support in the immediate context, as the very next sentence says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). Loving Jehovah their God with all of their being was another way of saying that Jehovah was “Number One” for the Israelites.

These different nuances or connotations in the way we might read the Shema are all consistent with one another, of course. They are also consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity as well as with Unitarian forms of non-Trinitarian theology. That the Shema is consistent with Unitarianism is obvious. That it is consistent with Trinitarianism is also obvious to anyone who bothers to understand Trinitarian theology correctly. The doctrine of the Trinity maintains that Jehovah is one Jehovah, one God, one divine being. There are not three Jehovahs, or three Gods, or three divine beings. Mormons regard the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three Gods, but Trinitarians do not. We affirm and believe that there is only one God, known in the Hebrew Bible as YHWH, and that this Lord God is one eternal divine being.

The fact is that Deuteronomy 6:4 does not address the issue of whether Jehovah is a “unipersonal” or “triune” being. It is just as much a mistake to read into the Hebrew echad that Jehovah is unipersonal (as all non-Trinitarians I have read do) as it is to read into it that Jehovah is a “composite unity” (as some Trinitarians have fallaciously argued). The word echad is the common, garden-variety, ordinary Hebrew word for the cardinal number “one” (1). It occurs hundreds of times in the Hebrew Bible and just means “one,” period. It does not specify one what; in what sense Jehovah is “one” we must learn from the context or from other statements. The word is consistent with Jehovah as a unipersonal being or as a triune being. Yet critics of the doctrine of the Trinity often lean hard on this statement as supposedly an obvious disproof of the Trinity.

Consider Anthony Buzzard’s two books on the subject, The Doctrine of the Trinity (with Charles Hunting, 1998) and Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian (Restoration Fellowship, 2007). Buzzard and Hunting cite Deuteronomy 6:4 or Jesus’ citation of that text in Mark 12:29 on some 22 pages of their book. In Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian, Buzzard cites these texts on at least 66 pages—about once every seven pages. Buzzard offers four arguments in connection with the Shema in support of his conclusion that it teaches that God is unipersonal.

(1) This is how Jews historically, both in Jesus’ day and to this day, understand the Shema. Indeed; but this is a historical argument, not an exegetical one. What if the understanding in Judaism is incomplete or imperfect at this point? Buzzard also states the point this way: No one, having only the Shema, would ever have arrived at a Trinitarian understanding of God. Again, true enough; but so what? It is completely unnecessary for Trinitarians to try to extract the full doctrine of the Trinity from the Shema alone. The Shema may establish one core element of the doctrine of the Trinity—that there is only one Jehovah—without establishing the rest of the doctrine.

(2) The efforts of some Trinitarian apologists to argue that the word echad means a composite unity, or that the plural form for “God” (elohim) implies a plurality of divine persons, are linguistically fallacious. I would agree; but this negative result does not establish Buzzard’s position that the text means that God is unipersonal.

(3) Other texts in the Bible use the Hebrew word echad or the Greek word heis in the context of speaking of a human being as one person (e.g., Lev. 4:27; 14:10; Josh. 23:10; Mark 14:20, 69; Rom. 9:20). Well, we know this because we know that each and every human being is one and only one person. This has nothing to do with the meaning of the words for “one,” which is simply one, and leaves undetermined whether the one Lord God is in fact unipersonal. These other texts do not tell us in what sense the Shema means that Jehovah is “one.”

(4) Galatians 3:20 states that “God is one” in a way that Buzzard claims indicates that he is one person. Translating literally, Paul writes, “Now the mediator is not of one; but God is one.” Buzzard likes the Amplified Bible’s paraphrase: “There can be no mediator with just one person. But God is only one person” (Buzzard, Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian, 314-15). But this is not what Paul wrote or meant. His point is that a mediator always mediates between two parties, or two sides, in an agreement, whereas God is only one party to the agreement. Hence translations like the following: “Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one” (Gal. 3:20 NRSV; NIV and NASB are similar). The other “party” to this agreement, by the way, was Abraham and his offspring (vv. 16-19). So the number of persons in each “party” to the agreement is not indicated by the word “one” (heis).

I could discuss other proof texts that Biblical Unitarians and other non-Trinitarians cite as proof that God is a unipersonal being, but the result will be the same in each case: such texts typically prove that God is a single being but do not address the specific Trinitarian claim that God is a unipersonal being. Non-Trinitarians typically argue, for example, that it is obvious from the pervasive use of singular pronouns for God (I, he, him, his, you [sing.]) throughout the Bible that God is only one person. This argument would be sound if by “person” we meant an individual being. However, in Trinitarian theology, a divine “person” is not an individual being, because God is one being, not three. The doctrine of the Trinity cannot be refuted by assuming that it is false; and this is what non-Trinitarians do when they assume that a person can only be an individual being.

That God is a single divine being, revealed in the Old Testament as YHWH, and that YHWH alone is God, is basic and fundamental to the doctrine of the Trinity. These are core affirmations that the doctrine seeks to uphold. While Biblical Unitarians agree with these affirmations, other non-Trinitarians do not, which is why, for example, my Outline Study on the Trinity has two lengthy sections defending these affirmations. It is simply a mistake to argue against the Trinity as if it were teaching three divine beings or three Gods, or as if it did not adhere to the truth that the LORD alone is God. Monotheism is fundamental and essential to the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Incomprehensibility of God

Another attribute of God that merits close attention here is God’s incomprehensibility. In orthodox Christian theology, this term is a technical term denoting the idea that God’s being is in some ways beyond human ability to understand completely or comprehensively. It does not mean that we cannot know God, or that we cannot know some things about God, but that our knowledge of God is always partial. Furthermore, it means that some of the truths about God that we know from his self-revelation in Scripture are beyond our capacity to analyze or correlate completely. We can know that these things are true, but we find ourselves at a loss to explain them completely or to understand how all of these truths correlate with each other and with what we know about the world.

The Bible itself proclaims that God is beyond our comprehension. In a broader sense, in fact, the Bible warns us that all of our knowledge, at least in this mortal life, is incomplete, partial, and even tenuous. “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (1 Cor. 8:2-3 ESV). “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12 ESV). This last text does not mean that we shall ever be omniscient, but it does emphasize that our knowledge falls woefully short of the full knowledge that we will have in the consummation.

There are two reasons (at least) that God is beyond our comprehension. The first is that God is unique. As the Creator of the world, there is nothing in this world to which we can compare God or liken him that adequately exemplifies what it means to be God (see Isa. 40:18, 25). This is why analogies for the Trinity always fall short, by the way (and why I generally avoid them). Not only do such analogies not prove the Trinity, they can never adequately illustrate or exemplify the Trinity because nothing in nature is “triune.” Every attribute of God, indeed, is unique in some respect, because God is unique. Omnipotence, for example, is not just God’s possession of quantitatively more power than anyone else has. It is his attribute of transcending all limitations of power by virtue of his unique identity as the Creator, the source of all power.

The second, related reason that God is incomprehensible is that God is infinite. By “infinite,” I do not mean that God is a numerical or quantitative infinity, but that God qualitatively transcends the finite limitations of created existence. Orthodox Christian theology affirms that God is in some way transcendent with respect to space, time, energy, and information. With respect to space, God’s transcendence is such that his being fills and exceeds all space (what theologians call his immensity) and he is personally present everywhere simultaneously (omnipresence). With respect to time, God’s transcendence is such that he is the only eternal being, having no beginning to his existence (however this is understood). With respect to energy, God transcends all limitations of power because as the Creator he is the source of all power (omnipotence). With respect to information, God is the transcendent source of all of the information in the cosmos and so of course knows all things (omniscience).

The Bible does not articulate these attributes in a formal, systematic way, as I have done here. However, it does speak of God in ways that clearly support the doctrines of divine immensity and omnipresence (Gen. 28:15; 1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 139:7-10; Isa. 66:1-2; John 4:20-24; Acts 17:28), eternity (Ps. 90:2; 102:25-27; Rom. 1:20; 1 Tim. 1:17), omnipotence (Gen. 18:14; 2 Chron. 20:6; Job 42:2; Isa. 14:27; 55:11; Jer. 32:17, 27; Dan. 4:35; Matt. 19:26; Luke 1:37), and omniscience (1 Kings 8:39; Ps. 139:1-4; 147:5; Isa. 46:9-10; 55:8-9; Matt. 10:30; Heb. 4:12; 1 John 3:20).

Many people are so comfortable with these theological affirmations that they do not realize that they attest to the incomprehensibility of God. How can God’s being to exceed the bounds of the entire cosmos and yet to be personally present everywhere at once? It seems contradictory to assert that God existed (exists?) before the universe began to exist: how can something exist before physical time began? But if there is no “before” the beginning, then didn’t God’s existence “begin” at the beginning as well? How can God know something that hasn’t happened yet? The questions easily multiply. On the basis of such questions, some people either abandon the classical Christian conception of God altogether, try to revise it in order to resolve the logical difficulties, or even claim that the very concept of God is irrational. However, orthodox Christians affirm these attributes because they find that Scripture teaches them—that this is what God reveals about himself. We are prepared to accept truths about God that Scripture reveals (explicitly or implicitly) even though these truths are often beyond our ability to comprehend fully or to penetrate logically. They are not illogical, but they transcend our ability to provide a perfectly logical analysis of them that leaves nothing unexplained or correlated.

In an online article, Biblical Unitarian author Don Snedeker quotes the following statement from a book on the Trinity that I published over twenty years ago: “Trinitarians are willing to live with a God they cannot fully comprehend” (Why You Should Believe in the Trinity, 138). (It isn’t clear that Snedeker has actually read the book, since he quotes this sentence from the book’s back cover.) Snedeker then comments:

So are Unitarians, and we do every day. The debate is not whether or not God is fully comprehensible under either system of beliefs. The debate is whether or not Trinitarians have reasonably made the leap from God being one to Him being three-in-one…. It is one thing for us not to comprehend something we do not fully understand…. However, it is quite another thing for it to be impossible to know something to be true. This latter case arises when contradictory assertions are made about the same thing. For example, on the trinitarian hypothesis God is said to be both three and one, which is a proposition that cannot be predicated of the same being. Hence it must be false. The way in which we use language and words disqualifies such a statement from being true. Something is either three or one, but not both. Since in trinitarian theology no reasonable qualifications of the predicates three and one are offered, the proposition about God being both is rightly rejected.

The type of accusation that Snedeker makes here is one that many critics have made against the classical Christian attributes of God, such as omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. Critics allege that these attributes lead to logical inconsistencies and therefore cannot be true. I disagree. The divine attributes, as well as the triunity of God, lead to logical difficulties but not to genuine logical contradictions.

Snedeker claims that Trinitarianism offers no “reasonable qualifications of the predicates three and one.” The qualification “reasonable” is the slippery term in this criticism. Trinitarianism does offer qualifications of these predicates: God is one God, one divine being, but three persons (with the term person stipulated to be used with a somewhat different connotation as compared to its use for human beings). Given this qualification, the doctrine may be metaphysically difficult or problematic, but it is not a simple logical contradiction.

By no means am I arguing that people should simply accept the Trinity on my say-so and not ask any difficult questions. I am not using “mystery” (a term I normally do not even use in this context) as a catch-all explanation or a smokescreen. Whatever we can understand of God’s revelation in Scripture, we should make every effort to understand. But approaches to Scripture that a priori disallow all mystery, paradox, or incomprehensibility are just as illegitimate as approaches that impose mystery or paradox where there is none. Logic is a set of tools for discovering truth, not a set of rules for dictating truth. We should use reason to clarify what the biblical texts say, not to dictate to them what they can and cannot say.

I am concerned here only to plead that non-Trinitarians not dismiss the doctrine of the Trinity, or any other doctrine, merely because it is difficult to understand. In the context of this debate, I am anticipating and arguing against a priori objections that amount to saying that the Trinity cannot be true regardless of what the Bible may say. And that is precisely what Snedeker’s objection is. He is arguing that the Trinity “must be false” by definition. Such a claim really is a way of shutting the door on any inquiry into whether the Bible might teach such a doctrine. There is no reason to examine the texts if one has already decided that the doctrine in question is false by definition. Indeed, the presupposition that the Bible cannot teach anything that is not susceptible to our logical analysis will (ironically) lead us to interpret individual texts unreasonably—to force them to conform to what we have a priori decided is possible. Let us not go that way. Instead, let us examine the Bible with an open mind, even though it may lead to a God who is beyond our ability to comprehend or analyze logically. He might just be the real God.

14 Responses to “The Great Trinity Debate, Part 1: Rob Bowman on God and Scripture”

  1. I’m glad to see that you are allowing comments on these posts.

    I am praying that this debate will be an avenue for God’s truth to shine forth brightly.

  2. Rob,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    You made a bold assertion here:

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

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

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

    You say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Your assertion that “the sense in which Jehovah is one, is not specified” reflects an a priori assumption that the verse cannot be taken at face value. This assumption is itself the result of your Trinitarian preconceptions about the identity of God. The Bible does not need to specify what “one” means here because there is no indication that we are required to interpret it in any way that is different to the normative use that we find everywhere else in Scripture. Yet you wish to make this a special case and argue for an alternative meaning. (To be fair, I should point out that some Jewish scholars argue that echad here should be rendered “alone” as a rejection of polytheism, but this is not your interpretation).

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

    This begs two questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Again in reference to the Shema, you say:

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

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

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

    You say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    These lines of evidence help to inform our understanding of the language used in certain New Testament passages, as I shall demonstrate in the weeks that follow.

  3. Rick Snodgrass April 15, 2010 at 8:01 am

    Comment deleted.

  4. 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

  5. BIBLICISM AND THE TRINITY

    I am breaking up my comments and giving them headers for sake of convenience and ease of reference.

    Dave, you wrote:

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

    I address a similar claim in the comments section on your opening statement. Again, I think it is fascinating that you want to argue that my case will be inadequate as a defense of Trinitarianism even if I can support all six core propositions from the Bible. Thus, even if I show that the Bible teaches that (10 there is one God (2) who is one divine being, that (3) the Father is God, (4) the Son is God, and (5) the Holy Spirit is God, and that (6) these three are personally distinct, you will declare my case inadequate. But Dave, your case will clearly be in much, much worse shape than mine! You claim, “Trinitarianism is certainly a plausible conclusion from your 6 propositions, but it is not a necessary one.” Well, that is debatable, but what is not debatable is that Unitarianism is NOT a plausible conclusion from those six propositions!

    I do not need to prove “eternal Sonship” per se to show that the doctrine of the Trinity is the best explanation of the Bible’s teaching. All I need to do with respect to the person of the Son is to show that he is God but personally distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit. Anything beyond that may give color, depth, and a better understanding of the doctrine but is not essential to show that the doctrine is true.

    You wrote:

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

    It is always a good idea to keep one eye on the masses who are following a debate, and the fact is that the vast majority of anti-Trinitarians, including most Biblical Unitarians, are Biblicists with regard to using words not found in the Bible. Furthermore, it would seem that you are a Biblicist with regard to concepts, though your wording here is a little ambiguous. You say that the concepts we use “must be strictly and demonstrably derived from Scripture alone.” If this meant only that we must be able to deduce these concepts reasonably from what Scripture says, I would agree. However, what you appear to mean is that the biblical writings must actually articulate these concepts (even if in different words). As I explained in my opening statement, that is another, if more subtle, form of Biblicism. Thus, you wrote:

    “The nature of your propositions betrays the fact that the clear statements required by Trinitarianism are not found in Scripture; hence your need to approach it tangentially, rather than by direct proof-texting.”

    The expectation of being able to produce “proof texts” that articulate the concepts explicitly is a Biblicist expectation.

    You took exception to my statement, “All non-Trinitarians adhere to some concepts or formulations that are not explicit anywhere in the Bible,” and asked me if I was planning on proving it during the debate. Dave, I already presented evidence for this claim, but you dismissed it, and not very convincingly. Specifically, you asserted that the concept of a canon of Scripture is not a doctrinal or theological concept but is merely “a point of textual criticism.” This is a bizarre claim and one for which you presented no evidence.

    I had written:

    “Specific concepts that non-Trinitarians present in opposition to the doctrine of the Trinity also are typically not explicit in the Bible. For example, no biblical writer sets forth the distinction that Biblical Unitarians make between ‘the Holy Spirit’ as another name for God the Father and ‘holy spirit’ as the impersonal spiritual power of divine nature that God gives to believers (see ‘The Giver and the Gift’).”

    You replied:

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

    Unfortunately, you did not list anything you may have written in your list of recommended resources supporting your position, and I am unaware of anything you have written on the subject. But I cited a resource from one of the websites that you did list. Here, I will quote it for you:

    “It is important to capitalize ‘Holy Spirit’ when it refers to God, and it is just as important to use lower case letters (‘holy spirit’) when referring to the gift God has given to those who are saved.”
    http://www.truthortradition.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=8

    This gift apparently is a gift of power from God, as the title of another article on the site indicates, “A New Holy Spirit: The Power to Be Like Christ” (http://www.truthortradition.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=672).

    If you wish to suggest a more accurate way of articulating the distinction the website is making, that’s fine. My point will still stand, which is that the site makes a distinction between Holy Spirit (=God) and “holy spirit” (not = God), and this distinction is not itself spelled out in the Bible.

    Thus, my claim stands, which is that Biblical Unitarians, like everyone else, employs concepts and distinctions not explicit in the Bible.

  6. TAKING THE SHEMA SERIOUSLY

    Dave,

    I see no basis for your criticism that I do not take the Shema at face value. The Shema says that Jehovah is one. I take this at face value to mean that Jehovah is one. I do not see anything in this statement, taking it at face value, that indicates that Jehovah is unipersonal. You wrote:

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

    That Israel has one God, Jehovah, is clear from the Shema: “Hear O Israel: Jehovah OUR GOD, Jehovah is one.” It is the expression “Jehovah our God” that I claim makes clear that Jehovah was Israel’s one and only God. Of course, this point is made repeatedly throughout Deuteronomy and indeed throughout the Old Testament.

    The simplest way of reading the Shema may be to take “Jehovah is one” as synonymous with “Jehovah [is] our God,” and thus simply emphatic that Jehovah is Israel’s one and only God. Thus, I am perfectly comfortable with the explanation that you mentioned some Jewish scholars give that “Jehovah is one” has the force of “Jehovah alone.”

    You asked what my exegetical basis was for the suggestion that “Jehovah is one” might mean something like “Jehovah is Number One.” Dave, I specified the exegetical basis in the next two sentences: “This connotation actually has support in the immediate context, as the very next sentence says, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might’ (Deut. 6:5). Loving Jehovah their God with all of their being was another way of saying that Jehovah was ‘Number One’ for the Israelites.” You claimed that this interpretation might imply the existence of other gods (number two, number three, etc.), but your criticism here simply ignores my own explanation of this suggested interpretation. As I have already pointed out, although the Shema does not explicitly address the question of the ontological status of other gods, it does indicate that Jehovah is Israel’s one and only God. Thus, the Israelites certainly were not supposed to have a “number two” deity or the like.

    You wrote:

    “The assertion that ‘Deuteronomy 6:4 does not address the issue of whether Jehovah is a “unipersonal” or “triune” being’ seems to be predicated upon the a priori assumption that the passage could mean God is more than one person (which is something that you have yet to prove).”

    No, this is incorrect. I do not think Deuteronomy MEANS that God is more than one person. I think that the text ALLOWS for this qualification.

    You wrote:

    “Are ‘triune’ and ‘unitary’ really opposites? You seem to imply that they are, but you do not explain why.”

    Dave, I didn’t even use the word “unitary.”

    You wrote:

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

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

    Second, though, I should point out that although the Torah was the unerring word of God, it was not a perfect or complete revelation. If it had been complete and perfect, there would have been no need for additional revelation, would there? This is just what the writer of Hebrews points out, though in connection with a different issue: “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second” (Heb. 8:7).

    You wrote:

    “The apostles also gave no indication that they understood the Shema in a way that was different to OT Jews.”

    Ah, that is what we are here to discuss. I maintain, as does (for example) Richard Bauckham, that they did. More precisely, while the apostles agreed that the Shema was an affirmation of the exclusive identity of Jehovah, they came to view Jesus, alongside the Father, as included in the unique identity of the Lord God (see especially 1 Cor. 8:6, which figures prominently in Bauckham’s argument). But this is something we will surely be discussing in the next two weeks!

  7. Biblicism and the Trinity

    Rob,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    I said:

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

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

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

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

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

    I’ll conclude with a few observations:

    • Biblical Unitarianism offers the most natural reading of the Shema
    • The Shema does not support Trinitarianism’s triune personality thesis (whether implicitly or explicitly)
    • God’s identity was revealed at Mt Sinai and did not require qualification
    • The OT Jews interpreted the Shema in the same way that Biblical Unitarians do today
  8. When can we expect to see part 2?

  9. Nick Batchelor June 8, 2010 at 1:52 am

    Aloha!

    Regarding the Hebrew word “echad” (one); I remember speaking about this with a friend of mine who teaches Hebrew and knows Biblical Hebrew and was at one time a Trinitarian. He once wrote me this below:

    “My dear brother,

    If I asked an Israeli kid age 6 to count to 5, he was say “echad, snahyim, schloshah, arbahah, hhamisha etc.” “Echad” is simply the word for “one.”

    Like English it can be used to describe one orange or one dozen of oranges. Note some uses of echad in the Bible:

    Genesis 11:1 Now the whole world had one (echad) language and a common speech.

    Genesis 22:3 ……..as a burnt offering on one (echad) of the mountains…

    Exodus 11:1 ………I will bring one (echad) more plague on Pharoah…

    Leviticus 23:24 ……. on the first (echad) day of the seventh month you are to…

    What else did you need?

    Hal”

    Yes, it is apparent for all to see that the sense of plurality is derived from the “collective NOUN,” not from the word “one,”
    echad.

    Nick Batchelor

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