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The Great Trinity Debate, Part 2: Dave Burke on Jesus Christ

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

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

Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah

  • Matthew 2:1-6, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him. After assembling all the chief priests and experts in the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem of Judea,” they said, “for it is written this way by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are in no way least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.””
  • John 4:25-26, “The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (the one called Christ); ‘whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.’ Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.'”
  • Acts 3:19-20,”‘Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and so that he may send the Messiah appointed for you — that is, Jesus.'”

Jesus was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by divine intervention, on which basis he is the Son of God

  • Isaiah 7:14, “‘For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel.'”
  • Matthew 1:20-23, “When he had contemplated this, an angel of the Lord16 appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: ‘Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel’, which means ‘God with us’.'”
  • Luke 1: 34-35, “Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?’ The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.'”

At his baptism Jesus received the Holy Spirit, through which he performed miraculous works

  • Matthew 3:16, “After Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on him.”
  • Luke 4:14, “Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the surrounding countryside.”
  • John 3:34, “For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he does not give the Spirit sparingly.”
  • Acts 10:38, “with respect to Jesus from Nazareth, that God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him.”

Prior to his death and resurrection Jesus was a mortal man, subject to the infirmities of mortal men

  • John 4:6, “Jacob’s well was there, so Jesus, since he was tired from the journey, sat right down beside the well. It was about noon.”
  • Acts 3:15, “‘You killed the Originator of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this fact we are witnesses!'”
  • Hebrews 2:17, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people.”

Jesus enjoys a uniquely intimate relationship with the Father

  • Matthew 11:27, “‘All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him.'”
  • John 6:45, “‘(Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God — he has seen the Father.)'”

Jesus worships the Father as his God

  • John 4:21-22, “Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews.”
  • John 20:17, “Jesus replied, ‘Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.””

Jesus lived a sinless life of service to the Father’s will, despite being capable of sin and subject to temptation

  • Matthew 4:1, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
  • John 4:34, “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work.'”
  • Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin.”
  • I Peter 2:21-22, “For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth.”

Jesus died as a perfect, sinless sacrifice for our sins

  • Romans 3:23-25, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed.”
  • Hebrews 7:26-27, “For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all.”
  • I Peter 1:18-19, “You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors you were ransomed — not by perishable things like silver or gold, but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ.”
  • I John 2:1-2, “(My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.) But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One, and he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.”

Due to his sinless life Jesus did not deserve to die, and was consequently raised to immortality

  • Acts 2:22-24, “‘Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know —this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles. But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power.'”

Jesus is now seated at the Father’s right hand as God’s divine, exalted Son, where he acts as our mediator to God

  • Romans 8:34, “Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us.”
  • I Timothy 2:5, ” For there is one God and one intermediary between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, himself human”

None of these points requires Jesus to be God. He is presented consistently as a mortal man before his death and resurrection, and an immortal man after he is raised from the dead. This consistent positive evidence is very strong.

Names and titles of Jesus
Jesus has many titles, identifying aspects of his identity, mission and status. I have listed some below:

  • Messiah (Acts 3:20)
  • Lord (John 13:13)
  • Saviour (Acts 13:23)
  • King of Kings (Revelation 17:14)
  • Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16)
  • Immanuel; “God with us” (Matthew 1:18-23)
  • Last Adam (I Corinthians 15:45)
  • Lamb of God (John 1:29)
  • Word of God (Revelation 19:13)
  • Firstborn from among the dead (Colossians 1:18)
  • Author of life (Acts 3:15)
  • Chief shepherd (I Peter 5:4)
  • Light of the world (John 8:12)
  • First and last (Revelation 1:19)
  • Firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15)

There is no suggestion here that Jesus is God. These are precisely what we would expect of the Father’s own Son, elevated to His side and mediating on our behalf. It is important to maintain an extremely high view of Jesus prior to his resurrection; a mortal man, made like us in every way. But at his resurrection his body was perfected; made immortal by God. Jesus has been glorified and exalted to the extent that it is almost impossible to give him too much honour.

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

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

We must take care to avoid two arguments:

  • The Bible refers literally to Jesus as “God”; therefore he is God
  • The Bible does not refer literally to Jesus as “God”; therefore he is not God

Since the exact meaning of “theos” (Greek: “God”) can vary according to context, it is not enough to find a passage where Jesus is called “theos.” Of itself, this does not prove the Trinitarian case. However, we cannot assume that having “theos” used in relation to Jesus is the only evidence we would expect to find if Jesus was actually God. We can allow that there may be other, less explicit evidence.

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

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

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

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

Rob links this with Isaiah 9:6:

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

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

On Isaiah 7:14 –

The name Immanuel means “God [is] with us.”

There is no attempt to extrapolate an argument for Christ’s deity. The translators understand that a name is not the same as a statement about Christological identity or ontology (nature). Jewish names commonly include names and titles of God (a practice known as theophory) without ever implying that the person being so named is literally divine. Some examples follow:

  • Elijah: “Yahweh is God””, or “Yahweh my God”
  • Adoni-zedek: “justice of the Lord”
  • Jehezekel: “strength of God”
  • Zephaniah: “the Lord is my secret”
  • Bithiah: “daughter of the Lord”
  • Isaiah: “salvation of the Lord”
  • Ishmael: “God that hears”

The Messianic name of “Immanuel” was prophetic, pointing forward to the redeeming work that God would achieve through Jesus, whose name means “Yah shall save.”

On Isaiah 9:6 –

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

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

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

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

On page 141 of PJIHP, John 1:18:

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

This translation is based upon a specific choice of manuscript supporting a Trinitarian reading. There are a several Greek manuscripts for this verse, someleaving no place for the deity of Christ. English Bibles have historically translated John 1:18 in different ways, reflecting the manuscripts they use:

  • English Standard Version: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
  • Holman Christian Standard Bible: “No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son — the One who is at the Father’s side — He has revealed Him.”
  • Revised Version: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”
  • New International Version: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”

The NET translators admit in a footnote that this verse is controversial and awkward to translate (“The textual problem μονογενὴς θεός (monogenē theo, ‘the only God’) versus ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός (ho monogenē huio, ‘the only son’) is a notoriously difficult one”). They list a range of translations, assess the evidence for and against each, and explain their choice. Other translations similarly explain their arrival at an alternative translation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NET rejects this translation on grammatical grounds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 9:5 is therefore inconclusive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of these, Wallace says:

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

(Ibid. Wallace’s emphasis).

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

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

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

The first-century Jewish opponents of Christianity insisted that it constituted a heretical breach from Judaism, but in the pages of the NT we are able to see that Christians proved otherwise, demonstrating powerfully from Scripture that Christianity is the end result of a process which had begun with Israel.

Thus, as Christians, we must recognise and acknowledge that there is a doctrinal continuity from Judaism to Christianity which cannot be broken. This continuity is emphasised by the apostle Paul in Galatians 3:24, where he says that the Law of Moses was “…our instructor into Christ.”

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

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

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

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

This is Christianity’s foundation teaching:

  1. Sin deserves death
  2. Sacrifice offers a covering for sin
  3. Only God can provide a sin-covering sacrifice; a sacrifice which is “other than God”

In Week 3 I shall expand on this theme and discuss the many OT passages in which Jesus is foreshown clearly. We will see why his sin-covering sacrifice was made effective by Jesus’ humanity (not deity) and come to see him as the apostles and first-century Christians did: Jesus Christ: Son of God; Son of Man.

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

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

22 Responses to “The Great Trinity Debate, Part 2: Dave Burke on Jesus Christ”

  1. On the whole, well done. Some critical comments here: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1723

  2. NAMES AND TITLES OF JESUS

    Dave,

    You contend that Jesus’ many names and titles provide “no suggestion…that Jesus is God.” Some of the titles that you listed indeed have no bearing on whether Jesus is God (e.g., Messiah, Last Adam, and Lamb of God). However, some of his titles do suggest or express deity, at least in some contexts.

    For example, in my post in this second round, I explain why we should understand Matthew’s description of Jesus as “God with us” (Matt. 1:23) to mean that Jesus is God, not merely a man through whom God made his presence known in some special way. I understand, of course, that Hebrew names like Immanuel could function merely as theophoric names, i.e., names such as Elijah (“Yah is God”) describe God in some way and do not suggest the deity of those who bear those names. Nevertheless, the name clearly applies to Jesus in a more profound way, and we should understand Matthew’s introduction and explanation of this name in the context of the rest of the Gospel, especially its closing scene (Matt. 28:16-20). Thus, I claim that this is not the “lame argument” that Dale Tuggy (http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1723) thinks it is!

    While the title “Lord” as applied to Jesus in some contexts does not clearly connote deity (as in John 13:13, the one example you cited), in many contexts it does. The key point to note is that in many passages “Lord” as applied to Jesus is a surrogate or substitute for YHWH, as evident either from an explicit OT quotation (e.g., Rom. 10:8-13) or a clear OT allusion (e.g., 1 Cor. 8:6; Phil. 2:6-11). I will be discussing these three examples in next week’s installment, and there are many other examples (see Putting Jesus in His Place, 157-70).

    Then there is Christ’s title “the Word of God” in Revelation 19:13. If we accept the traditional view that the same man authored the Book of Revelation as the Gospel and Epistles of John (which I do), we should conclude that Jesus’ title “the Word of God” identifies Jesus as the Word (Logos) of the Johannine Prologue, whom John says is God (John 1:1, 14).

    Other titles that you mentioned, applied to Jesus only in the Book of Revelation, are definitely divine titles. John draws these titles directly from the OT, where they are exclusively designations of deity. These include “the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17 [not 1:19]; 2:8; 22:13; cf. 1:7-8; 21:6; Is. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12) and “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 17:14; 19:16; cf. Dan. 4:37; 1 Tim. 6:15), which I also discuss in Putting Jesus in His Place (173-74, 177-81). I must say that it was rather misleading for you to break up the latter title into two parts (“King of kings” and “Lord of lords”).

    Finally, the title “Savior” as applied to Jesus is also clearly a divine title. In the OT, except in four references to non-religious figures (Israelite judges famed for their military exploits), “Savior” always refers to God. The NT’s usage of the title “Savior” for Jesus is religious or sacred in nature and typically cosmic in scope (Acts 13:23, the one text that you selectively cited, is the only NT text applying the title to Jesus in connection with Israel). Paul’s epistle to Titus consistently describes Jesus as Savior in parallel with God, and once even calls him “our great God and Savior” (Titus 1:3-4; 2:10, 13; 3:4, 6; see also 2 Peter 1:1). In light of the frequent references to the LORD in the Greek OT as God and Savior (Deut. 32:15; Ps. 25:5; 27:9; 62:2, 6; 65:6; Is. 12:2; 45:15, 21; Mic. 7:17; Hab. 3:18; etc.), Paul’s usage of the title “Savior” for Jesus definitely connotes deity (Putting Jesus in His Place, 174-76).

    The case for Christ’s identity as God from these titles is far stronger than one would think from any one title considered in isolation merely as a single word or as a lexical unit. Anti-Trinitarians often assume that if they can find non-divine uses of each of these titles somewhere in the Bible they have effectively refuted any inference from these titles that Jesus is God. So they point out that Sarah called her husband Abraham “lord” (1 Peter 3:6), the Greek translation of Judges calls Othniel a “savior” (Judg. 3:9 LXX), and so forth. Or they will cite texts in which one of these titles is applied to Jesus in a way that does not identify or describe him as divine (e.g., John 13:13 and Acts 13:23, mentioned above). This line of argument is fatally flawed. These titles identify Jesus as God because the NT applies a wide array of these titles to him (God, Lord, Savior, etc.), even combining them (“God and Savior,” “Lord and Savior,” “my Lord and my God,” etc.), frequently quoting from or alluding to OT texts referring to the LORD God, and saying things about Jesus that treat him as deity. The argument from these titles to Christ’s deity, then, is extremely strong and I would argue really irrefutable when understood contextually and cumulatively in this way (see Putting Jesus in His Place, 128-29, 274-75).

  3. TEXTS APPARENTLY CALLING JESUS “GOD”

    Dave,

    More than half of your post in this second round focuses on arguing that most of the texts that I adduce in Putting Jesus in His Place as referring to Jesus as “God” should be set aside as indecisive. The theme statement of this portion of your post summarizes your reasoning:

    “However, these passages are not decisive, since virtually all of them can be understood differently due to textual variations and contextual/grammatical issues. Textual critics and Trinitarian authorities of various schools observe repeatedly none can be relied on with absolute certainty, and even the strongest requires qualification.”

    As a matter of methodology, I reject this approach to the interpretation of biblical texts. I have already explained why in my own second-round post: the approach assumes that one’s proof texts are “clear” while the proof texts cited by one’s theological opponents are “obscure.” Your line of argument moves from the premise that differing interpretations of a text exist to the conclusion that the text has nothing to contribute to the discussion. This is a fallacious move; regardless of how you try to get from the premise to the conclusion, the latter simply does not follow from the former. It is fallacious when considering favorite proof texts of anti-Trinitarians, and it is also fallacious when considering favorite proof texts of Trinitarians. The theologian’s task is to develop a doctrinal position that takes into account everything the Bible says on the subject, which means wrestling with disputed texts and seeking the best exegetically grounded interpretation of each such text. It is unacceptable theological methodology to create a wastebasket for “disputed” texts and use it to take out of the picture texts that do not fit one’s theological model.

    You also say:

    “Since the exact meaning of ‘theos’ (Greek: ‘God’) can vary according to context, it is not enough to find a passage where Jesus is called ‘theos.’ Of itself, this does not prove the Trinitarian case.”

    If you had followed the argument of Putting Jesus in His Place (to which you referred repeatedly), you would know that we explicitly argue that it is not merely the use of the word theos that shows that Jesus is God, but the way in which the word is applied to Jesus and the surrounding contexts of these occurrences. “The Hebrew and Greek words for god and lord, as well as for savior, shepherd, rock, and the like, all apply in certain contexts to beings who are neither divine nor objects of religious devotion…. The Bible’s use of various names for Jesus proves that he is God because of their contexts” (128). With regard to John 1:1 and 1:18, we comment, “Between these two statements that call Jesus ‘God’ is a rich tapestry of affirmations about Jesus that confirm his identity as God” (138). Noting that Hebrews 1:8 is surrounded by statements affirming that the Son reigns from God’s throne, receives worship from all the angels, made the heavens and the earth, etc., we conclude: “In a passage that makes all of these astounding statements about Jesus Christ and asserts that his name is superior to that of all the angels (v. 4), the claim that the name ‘God’ also belongs to him (v. 8 ) should be given its full force” (150).

    Unfortunately, instead of engaging any of the exegetical arguments concerning these texts in Putting Jesus in His Place, you are content to quote various sources to show only that scholars have taken different views of many of these texts. (This leaves me off the hook as far as rebutting what you do say about them, although I may offer some responses.) I realize you cannot have hoped in the space allotted to offer a full rebuttal to all of the exegesis of these texts in my book, so I don’t fault you for not trying. What you really need to do, though, is to take the exegetical issues seriously and to show, even with just one or two examples, why the “Trinitarian” understanding of such texts is untenable.

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

  4. DAVE BURKE, THE NET BIBLE, AND ISAIAH TEXTS CALLING JESUS GOD

    Dave,

    In this comment I will point out some specific misunderstandings or misrepresentations in your post with regard to the NET Bible comments on Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6.

    Isaiah 7:14

    You began as follows (paragraph breaks undone for sake of clarity):

    “Rob says he is familiar with the NET Bible, so I am sure he has read the footnotes. I quote the relevant parts, as they are extensive. On Isaiah 7:14 – The name Immanuel means ‘God [is] with us.’ There is no attempt to extrapolate an argument for Christ’s deity. The translators understand that a name is not the same as a statement about Christological identity or ontology (nature).”

    This is a bald argument from silence, since the NET Bible offers no note suggesting that the name Immanuel as applied to Jesus does not express his identity as God. Furthermore, you are misrepresenting the translators by making it sound as though they agree with you that the name Immanuel, as applied to Jesus, is merely a theophoric name like “Elijah.”

    Isaiah 9:6

    On El Gibbor (“mighty God”), the NET Bible explains that “Scholars have interpreted this title is two ways,” the first of which denies that Isaiah means to attribute divinity to the future king. You quote this explanation in full, emphasizing with bold type the words, “but it is unlikely that Isaiah or his audience would have understood the title in such a bold way.” You then omit any reference to the second interpretation, the one favored by the NET Bible editors: “The other option is to regard this title as a reference to God, confronting Isaiah’s readers with the divinity of this promised “child.” The use of this same title that clearly refers to God in a later passage (Isa 10:21) supports this interpretation….”

    With regard to “Everlasting Father,” you badly misunderstood or misrepresented the NET Bible comment, “This title must not be taken in an anachronistic Trinitarian sense. (To do so would be theologically problematic, for the ‘Son’ is the messianic king and is distinct in his person from God the ‘Father.’)” I agree with the NET Bible here; the point that the comment is making is that the text is not identifying the future Messiah as God the Father. Yet you claim, “The NET translators openly reject a Trinitarian view and provide several reasons why it is not possible.” No, they did not reject a Trinitarian view of the text, but rather rejected an “anachronistic Trinitarian sense” for the term “Father” in Isaiah 9:6 as referring specifically to God the Father. In other words, the translators were rejecting a modalist or monarchian view, not a Trinitarian view, of the text’s meaning.

  5. Excellent explanation of theophory by Dave. Completely in sync the name w/ the logos intent, too.

  6. Rob,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    You mention the fact that Jesus is called “first and last” (a title with no implications of deity whatsoever) but you don’t tell us what you think this means. Scripture shows that Jesus is called the “first” because he is the “firstborn from among the dead” and “firstborn of creation” (Revelation 1:5, Colossians 1:15) and the “last” because he is the “last Adam” (I Corinthians 15:45). This is reflected in Scripture’s description of Jesus as the “pioneer and perfector of our faith” of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

    Your rebuttal does not address the fact that Jesus is never called “God of gods” or “Alpha and Omega.” I hope you intend to examine these titles in Week 3.

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

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

  7. Texts Apparently Calling Jesus “God”
    Rob,

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

    In the final paragraph you say:

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

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

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

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

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

    You deliberately personalise the debate (poor form; when I was a member of my college debating team, this was never allowed) and accuse me of two things:

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

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

    On the second point I can grant you nothing since you misrepresent me whilst accusing me of misrepresenting the NET. You focus in on the bolded section of the footnotes on “Everlasting Father” whilst ignoring the footnote on “El Gibbor” above it, which comprises 50% of the evidence for my claim that the NET translators reject a Trinitarian reading. (Yes, they reject a Trinitarian reading of “Everlasting Father” since that would result in Modalism, but that’s not the only reason they don’t see deity in this verse).

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

    I will allow you to have the last word on this thread.

  9. Interesting debate, gentlemen, and most illuminating. Keep it up! But I suggest you add a level when referring to NT “proof texts” — what reason do we have to believe that the author “got it right,” i.e., isn’t simply giving us his own personal spin?

    I’m not asking for either a full-blown treatise on divine inspiration or an exegesis on how the New Testament books got selected from the wider range of available texts and received an official imprimatur. But if you are going to quote, say, Matthew 4:1 as a proof text, don’t we want to know how it is that the author of Matthew knew Jesus went off into the desert to be tempted by the devil? Or if you are relying on an account that nobody who would have been a source for the author could possibly have witnessed (Jesus colloquy with the High Priest the night of his death comes to mind here), don’t we want to ask how reliable the account is?

    Or are you both ready to discount the possibility of spin?

  10. Frank, Rob and I both agree that the Bible is accurate, authoritative and divinely inspired. Issues of authorship and witness reliability do not fall within the scope of our debate.

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

    If we accept that the Apostle John is the writer of both John and Revelation, then the use of a common motif between the two books does suggest a link in the writer’s mind. Likewise the imagery of the Lamb of God, and the slain Lamb which the writer uses in both books. If a quick electronic search is acceptable it seems that John and Revelation are the only two books that contain mention of the Lamb of God in the New Testament. That it is not a literal lamb does not detract from the title being an accurate description of Jesus’ function.

    The Word who is God, and the Word of God do appear to occupy a similar status in the writer’s mind. Whilst the word of God, meaning the prophetic oracle is often used in the New testament, the identification with an individual being is unusual and even, dare I say it, peculiar to John.

  12. Hats off to both Dave and Rob on the quality of this debate.

    Whilst a different sort of Trinitarian myself (Jesus being the son of the plural triune God Elohim) I’m beginning to observe what I have so often when dealing with anti Trinitarians, this misuse or bending of context. These are arguments beyond a common reading which, if true, sagest the author(s) of scripture didn’t mean what they said but hid a meaning in a labyrinth, obscuring the intent from all but a special class of intellectuals. It leaves Jesus as a temporary Man-God who is not divine, holding currently an office which lends him all power and authority in heaven and on earth.

    I would hint that the same vein of priestly dictators who rejected Christ, previously attempted to eradicate the idea of plural deity from their sacred writings, almost. The intriguing question is then, why do two sets of believers with the same documents come away with two differing interpretations? Pro Trinitarians would ignore the strict monotheistic tilt of Judaism, while anti Trinitarians must discount what Jesus said about himself and his current office??

  13. Hats off from me, too, to Dave & Rob on the quality of the debate – I’ve been finding it very enlightening.

    Colter, I’m sure there must be plenty of reason behind the rest of your comments, but as they stand they look like litttle more than:
    – a general ad hominem against all non-trinitarians (which incidentally you seem to fall under from your description of your beliefs)
    – a poor representation of the Biblical Unitarian Christology as if this alone refutes it; and
    – a novel accusation of textual forgery in the scriptural documents by the monotheistic Jews.

    I think all will see the first two comments for what they are. The third, however, really must be challenged – it really will not do to make a statement like that without presenting any evidence at all (and at odds with the evidence I’m aware of, such as the hugely accuracy-focused scribal traditions & the witness of the dead sea scrolls). To qualify it as a “hint”, perhaps because you have no evidence, makes it no better.

    You’re in danger of rewriting history to fit your own preconceptions, and in doing so (unless you present evidence) I believe you do more to undermine Rob’s position (in the eyes of the reader) than strengthen it.

    Just my 2c.

  14. Mr Brady,

    You will find that Colter almost always makes statements that he does not back up. We have met before… His belief system is more unorthodox than a non-Trinitarian.

  15. IS “THE WORD OF GOD” A THEOPHORIC NAME?

    Dave,

    You wrote:

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

    So now, “the Word of God” in Revelation 19:13 is a theophoric name? That is a very interesting claim.

    The idea of a theophoric name is that it is a proper name that someone has that says something, not about that person, but about God. Let’s look at some examples:

    Daniel (God is my judge)
    Eleazar (God has helped)
    Elijah (Jah is God)
    Elisha (God is salvation)
    Ezekiel (God strengthens)
    Isaiah (Jah is salvation)
    Ishmael (God hears)
    Josiah (Jah supports)
    Michael (Who is like God?)
    Nehemiah (Jah comforts)
    Samuel (name of God)
    Zedekiah (Jah is righteous)

    Thus, a theophoric name is a personal name that begins or ends with a form of the name el (God) or Jah (Jehovah) and that in no sense describes the individual who bears that name. Instead, that personal, proper name has the human or angelic being who bears it as its referent while it has God, or some truth about God, as its sense. Note that we should distinguish theophoric names from such names as Gabriel (man of God) and Obadiah (servant of Jah) which describe the creature.

    Now I think we can see that neither “the Word of God” nor “the Lamb of God” is a theophoric name. For one thing, these are not proper names at all. For another thing, the distinction between the name’s sense and reference that is essential to a theophoric name does not apply. That is, these designations “Word of God” and “Lamb of God” do not refer to Jesus while saying something that is not true about him. They are not descriptions of God like “God helps” or “Jah comforts” that tell us something about God instead of something about Jesus.

    Your question, “you don’t believe he is literally a Lamb, do you?” while attempting to make my position look silly, does nothing of the sort. The designation “Lamb of God” is a description of the function that Jesus performed for our salvation. We all know that it is not literal, but that is irrelevant. It is not a theophoric name; it is a symbolic designation of Jesus. Likewise, Jesus is not a literal word, but the designation “Word of God” is in some way descriptive of Jesus, not of God the Father. It is one of Christ’s names. It is not a name that actually belongs to the Father but that Jesus bears as the Father’s agent; no, that cannot be right because the Father cannot be called “the Word of God.” Therefore, this is a name that properly belongs to Jesus and is descriptive of Jesus.

  16. DIVINE TITLES OF JESUS CHRIST

    Dave,

    Here are some brief responses on various divine titles of Jesus Christ.

    King of kings and Lord of lords

    With regard to “King of kings and Lord of lords,” no biblical text applies both designations to any human ruler; in fact, no biblical text refers to anyone other than God as “Lord of lords.” My point was that it is hermeneutically fallacious to separate the two designations in order to argue that, since Daniel called Nebuchadnezzar “king of kings” (Dan. 2:37), the application of these designations together to Jesus does not identify him as God.

    The First and the Last

    You wrote:

    “You mention the fact that Jesus is called ‘first and last’ (a title with no implications of deity whatsoever) but you don’t tell us what you think this means. Scripture shows that Jesus is called the ‘first’ because he is the ‘firstborn from among the dead’ and ‘firstborn of creation’ (Revelation 1:5, Colossians 1:15) and the ‘last’ because he is the ‘last Adam’ (I Corinthians 15:45). This is reflected in Scripture’s description of Jesus as the ‘pioneer and perfector of our faith’ of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).”

    This way of interpreting the title “the First and the Last” in Revelation won’t work. John does not expect his readers to pull out an explanation of “the First” from Colossians and “the Last” from 1 Corinthians. Breaking up “the First” and “the Last” into two titles is an egregious error, even more so than in the case of “the King of kings and Lord of lords.” If we want to understand what Revelation means, we need to interpret this title within the context of Revelation and in light of the OT, since Revelation is suffused with allusions to the OT, especially to Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah. The unmistakable OT background to this title is Yahweh’s self-descriptions in Isaiah: “I, YHWH, the first, and with the last; I am he…. I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god…. I am he; I am the first, and I am the last” (Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12). The title “the First and the Last” obviously parallels the titles “the Beginning and the End” and “the Alpha and the Omega,” also used in Revelation. In Greek, of course, alpha is the first letter of the alphabet, its beginning, and omega is the last letter of the alphabet, the end. These three titles are therefore synonymous in the context of the Book of Revelation, as Revelation 22:13 makes explicit:

    the Alpha and the Omega: Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13
    the First and the Last: Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13
    the Beginning and End: Rev. 21:6; 22:13

    It is beyond dispute that two of the three occurrences of the title “the First and the Last” in Revelation refer to Jesus Christ (1:17; 2:8). Contextually, the third use of the title also appears to refer to Jesus (22:12-13, cf. 22:7, 20). The best exegetical conclusion, then, is that this title refers to Jesus in all three occurrences. Of course, this means that Revelation 22:13 also calls Jesus “the Alpha and the Omega” and “the Beginning and the End.” In this light, the title “the First and the Last” is a title of deity. In Putting Jesus in His Place, I go into this evidence in more detail and show that the title expresses the idea that Christ, as God, is the living Lord of history from creation to consummation (177-81).

    You wrote:

    “Your rebuttal does not address the fact that Jesus is never called ‘God of gods’ or ‘Alpha and Omega.’”

    The argument from silence strikes again! No biblical text refers specifically to Jesus as “God of gods,” but Revelation does call Jesus “the Alpha and the Omega,” as explained above.

    Savior

    You wrote:

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

    Dave, you are putting words in my mouth in order to dismiss an argument as fallacious that I did not make. I did not say that Savior is “an exclusive title of deity.” I did not use the word “exclusive” with reference to that title at all. I did say that the titles discussed above in the Book of Revelation “are exclusively designations of deity,” but I did not say that about “Savior.” Here, I’ll quote what I said for you: “Finally, the title ‘Savior’ as applied to Jesus is also clearly a divine title. In the OT, except in four references to non-religious figures (Israelite judges famed for their military exploits), ‘Savior’ always refers to God.” No special pleading there.

    You wrote:

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

    It is indeed conclusive as identifying Jesus as YHWH, once we understand the combination of the two titles “God and Savior” in their OT background, as I explained in my post above. And thus it “presents difficulties” for your position, once that background is properly taken into consideration.

  17. TEXTS APPARENTLY CALLING JESUS “GOD”

    Dave,

    You wrote:

    “In this section you use a great many words to say little more than ‘I disagree with you’ without clearly addressing what I’ve written.”

    Totally untrue. You continued:

    “At one point you appear to be suggesting that I approach Scripture in a certain way, and that this is very bad. Since you never quote me to prove that I’m doing what you imply I’m doing, and since what I’m allegedly doing is never clearly defined, this digression remains obscure and ultimately irrelevant. The general impression I receive is that you’re not happy with the way I dispatched the ‘Jesus is God’ texts, but that is a point you’ll have to take up with Daniel Wallace, since I merely follow his line of reasoning.”

    No, I was very specific as to what was the methodological problem with your approach. I did not “imply” what you were doing; I stated it explicitly. Here is what I wrote: “Your line of argument moves from the premise that differing interpretations of a text exist to the conclusion that the text has nothing to contribute to the discussion.” Your claim that I never quoted you to prove that this was how you were reasoning is also false. Here is what I quoted you as saying:

    “However, these passages are not decisive, since virtually all of them can be understood differently due to textual variations and contextual/grammatical issues. Textual critics and Trinitarian authorities of various schools observe repeatedly none can be relied on with absolute certainty, and even the strongest requires qualification.”

    That this meant in context that you wanted us to set aside these verses is clear from your statement, “I address these verses now since I feel that they distract from the far more important task of building a case for our respective Christologies on a Scriptural basis as a whole” (your emphasis). Note your claim that these verses “distract” people from the task of developing a biblical Christology. Dave, they can only be a distraction from that task if they have nothing to contribute to it.

    You wrote:

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

    Your first question rhetorically argues that if the Bible rarely calls Jesus “God,” then he must not really be God. This argument is fallacious and easily backfires. The NT rarely calls the Father “Lord” (= Yahweh), roughly about as often as it calls Jesus “God.” Does this mean that the Father isn’t really the LORD? You claim that when the Bible does call Jesus God it does so according to the principle of agency, and you find this principle at work practically everywhere in the NT. I could ask you the same question, then: If it was completely normal to call God’s agent “God,” why doesn’t the NT call Jesus God more often than it does?

    Your second question may reflect badly on the behavior of some ancient Christian scribes, but it has absolutely no relevance to the doctrine of the deity of Christ or the Trinity. We have plenty of evidence for these doctrines after we eliminate the overzealous scribal changes reflecting concern to safeguard the deity of Christ. I simply don’t need 1 Timothy 3:16 to say “God was manifest in the flesh” to defend the deity of Christ, nor do I need the Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7) to defend the Trinity.

    Furthermore, some Christologically significant textual variants work the other direction. Two notable examples are 1 Corinthians 10:9 and Jude 5. In the former, Paul probably wrote “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents,” and the reading “put the Lord to the test” is a later variant. In the latter, Jude probably wrote that “Jesus, who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe,” and again later scribes changed “Jesus” to “the Lord.” I discuss the textual evidence and reasoning for both these texts in Putting Jesus in His Place (95, 98-99, and see 312 n. 6, 313 n. 10).

  18. The NET Bible and Isaiah Texts Calling Jesus God

    Dave,

    I had entitled one of my comments “Dave Burke, the NET Bible, and Isaiah Texts Calling Jesus God.” You complained that I “deliberately personalize[d] the debate,” apparently by using your name in the heading of that comment, and stated that when you were a member of your college debating team “this was never allowed.” This is an odd complaint if the problem was merely my use of your name in the comment heading.

    As to the substance of my comment, you neglected to respond to my criticism that in your post you were “misrepresenting the translators by making it sound as though they agree with you that the name Immanuel, as applied to Jesus, is merely a theophoric name like ‘Elijah.’”

    In response to my claim that you had misrepresented the NET Bible on Isaiah 9:6, you wrote:

    “On the second point I can grant you nothing since you misrepresent me whilst accusing me of misrepresenting the NET. You focus in on the bolded section of the footnotes on “Everlasting Father” whilst ignoring the footnote on ‘El Gibbor’ above it, which comprises 50% of the evidence for my claim that the NET translators reject a Trinitarian reading…. You then misrepresent me as claiming that the NET translators reject a Trinitarian view on the basis of ‘Everlasting Father[’] alone, which I neither stated nor implied.”

    Let’s clear this up, shall we? I did not ignore your quotation of the NET Bible footnote on El Gibbor. I specifically criticized your selective quotation from that footnote. Here is what I wrote:

    “On El Gibbor (‘mighty God’), the NET Bible explains that ‘Scholars have interpreted this title is two ways,’ the first of which denies that Isaiah means to attribute divinity to the future king. You quote this explanation in full, emphasizing with bold type the words, ‘but it is unlikely that Isaiah or his audience would have understood the title in such a bold way.’ You then omit any reference to the second interpretation, the one favored by the NET Bible editors: ‘The other option is to regard this title as a reference to God, confronting Isaiah’s readers with the divinity of this promised “child.” The use of this same title that clearly refers to God in a later passage (Isa 10:21) supports this interpretation….’”

    I am mystified as to why you would claim that I ignored the footnote on El Gibbor. Clearly, I did not.

    I stand by my criticism: the NET Bible was not rejecting a Trinitarian interpretation of Isaiah 9:6, as you claimed (and still claim); rather, they were criticizing a “Trinitarian” understanding of “Everlasting Father” that would erroneously identify Jesus as God the Father.

  19. My response to Rob’s rebuttal in this thread starts here.

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