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The Great Trinity Debate, Part 2: Rob Bowman on Jesus Christ

Even with two of the six weeks of this debate devoted to discussing the person of Jesus Christ, we have an embarrassing wealth of riches from Scripture on the subject and cannot possibly do all of it justice in the space and time allotted. I have written a book on the subject, co-authored with my good friend J. Ed Komoszewski, entitled Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ. It isn’t exhaustive, but it surveys the biblical teaching about Christ’s deity in a way that many people have found helpful.

Toward a Biblically-Based Christology

Ideally, our doctrine of Christ should take into consideration everything the Bible says about Christ. No one will do this perfectly, of course, but we should cast as wide a net as possible and bring to bear material from throughout the Bible. On the other hand, for various reasons some parts of the Bible will and should play a larger or more prominent role in Christology.

One commonly stated reason for assigning some texts priority, however, requires some rethinking. I am referring to the common hermeneutical canon that we should interpret the “obscure,” “ambiguous,” or “unclear” texts in light of the “clear” texts. Many people who appeal to this principle to validate their interpretations have engaged in untold mischief. All too often, people view any text that agrees with their predetermined position as “clear” and any that does not as “unclear.” The reasoning often proceeds along these lines: “My opponent thinks that Text A teaches his doctrine. However, Text B clearly teaches my doctrine, which is contrary to his. Furthermore, scholars disagree about the meaning of Text A. Since Text A, then, is not clear, we should go with the clear teaching of Text B.” Using this form of argument, it is all too easy to dismiss from serious consideration texts that do not seem to fit one’s theological position.

The reality is that almost invariably Text A seems clear to one group while Text B appears equally clear to an opposing group. Furthermore, one can find some scholars with differing opinions about the meaning of almost every text, including Text B (whatever that text may be). Scholarly inventiveness and creativity know almost no bounds, and since academia in the humanities (including biblical scholarship) encourages revisionism, scholars often put forth differing explanations of a text simply because they think that’s their job. In the end, “clarity” and “obscurity” are usually subjective judgments that reflect the beliefs of the interpreters more than they inform us about the texts themselves.

Since we cannot assign priority to texts on the simplistic assumption that our favorite texts are the clearest, we need another approach. The approach I propose is to identify, on the basis of specific criteria, the major passages treating the subject. The criteria (which overlap with one another) include the following:

  1. Subject matter: The text’s main subject or theme directly relates to the doctrinal issue at hand.
  2. Length of treatment: The text addresses the subject or theme at some length, in what we might call a paragraph (or longer), rather than just one or two sentences.
  3. Place of the book in Scripture: A book’s place in the canon is relevant because biblical revelation took place over many centuries and went through discernible stages tied to historical events and developments.
  4. Purpose of the book: This criterion also overlaps the subject matter criterion, but pertains to the book as a whole, not just the individual passage.
  5. Genre of the passage or book. Some genres are more directly relevant to addressing doctrinal issues than others. Generally, narratives to inform us about historical matters and didactic genres (sermons, lectures, treatises, etc.) inform us about doctrinal matters. Of course, in Christianity historical and doctrinal matters sometimes overlap.
  6. Comprehensiveness: A passage is more comprehensive if it addresses more aspects or dimensions of a topic than other passages do. The more comprehensive a passage is, the more it ranks as a major passage.
  7. Confessional material: Passages that incorporate or present confessional or creedal material are especially important because they express the believing community’s faith in a more formal, systematic, or intentional manner.
  8. Position within the book: In some cases the position of a passage within a book gives that passage some priority or heightened importance. The two most obvious positions in a book of relevance here are at the beginning and at the end, or at least at the climax (especially in a narrative book).

Based on these criteria, what would be the major passages on the subject of the identity of Jesus Christ? All of the major passages should be in the NT, since books written after Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection will offer more direct reflection and teaching about the identity of Jesus than books written before his coming. Eight passages stand out:

  • Matthew 28:16-20: This passage comes at the end of Matthew and presents Christ in his exalted status.
  • John 1:1-18. John tells his readers that he wrote the whole Gospel to persuade them as to who Jesus is—the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:30-31). The Gospel of John is the only book with this stated purpose, and so it is appropriate that discussions of the identity of Jesus give “disproportionate” attention to this one book. The Prologue, which comes at the very beginning of the Gospel (John 1:1-18), is the one sustained didactic passage outside of Jesus’ own speeches in the book. Furthermore, the Prologue’s purpose is to “pull back the curtain” and let the reader know who and what Jesus is even before the narrative begins.
  • John 20:26-31: This is the climactic passage in the Gospel of John and includes the author’s purpose statement.
  • Romans 10:8-13: In this passage, Paul states in a clearly confessional manner the message of faith in Jesus as Lord and explains what it means.
  • 1 Corinthians 8:4-6: This relatively short text is a formal, creedal statement rich beyond its length.
  • Philippians 2:6-11. Christ is the subject of this famous passage; more specifically, the passage focuses on Christ’s status, offering a sweeping account of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation (making it important for reasons of comprehensiveness). It is didactic material and very likely drew on confessional material, perhaps in the form of a “hymn.”
  • Colossians 1:13-20. This is another passage in which Paul apparently drew on confessional material (possibly another “hymn,” though the evidence for this is weaker here than for Philippians 2). Like Philippians 2:6-11, the whole passage focuses on the status of Christ. It makes a good number of affirmations or statements about Christ in a relatively compressed space (again, similar in length to the Philippians passage). The epistle to the Colossians is a didactic work, and a major theme of the epistle is the exclusive position of Christ.
  • Hebrews 1:1-14. The subject of this passage is the superiority of the Son to the angels. A major theme of the book as a whole is the superiority of Jesus and his covenant to the old covenant. Hebrews 1 is a lengthy passage, comes at the very beginning of the book, is didactic material (Hebrews is probably a written sermon or lecture), and appears to incorporate some confessional material (the argument supporting this last point is somewhat involved).

Notice that these eight major Christological passages come from different parts of the New Testament—four from Paul (who wrote about half of the books of the NT), two from John, one from Matthew, and one from Hebrews. Thus, these major passages represent a good cross-section of New Testament teaching on the identity of Jesus Christ. In this post and next week’s post, then, I will discuss the teachings of these eight passages pertaining to the identity of Christ, with supplemental references to other biblical texts as appropriate. This post will address the texts in Matthew and John, along with an excursus on two texts in John that anti-Trinitarians claim deny that Jesus is God. Next week’s post will address the texts in the epistles (as far as space allows!).

Matthew 28:16-20

Jesus’ eleven apostles met Jesus after his resurrection on a mountain. “And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted” (Matt. 28:17). Nothing in the context suggests that what some doubted was that Jesus had risen or that it was Jesus whom they saw. Rather, it seems that some doubted the propriety of worshipping Jesus. Their doubt makes no sense if this act was comparable to bowing before a human dignitary, as many anti-Trinitarians assert. Surely, Jesus’ disciples would have had no doubts about showing Jesus such courtesy and respect. No, apparently some doubted that Jesus was the proper object of religious worship, the act of humbling oneself toward a supernatural figure. Their doubt presupposes the biblical and conventional Jewish belief that the Lord God was the only proper recipient of such acts of religious devotion.

In the context of Matthew, the scene recalls the Temptation narrative that immediately precedes Jesus’ ministry (4:1-11). In the third, climactic temptation, the devil takes Jesus to a high mountain, shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and offers them to Jesus if he will worship him (4:8-9). Jesus rebuffs the temptation, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve only him” (4:10). Now, after Jesus’ resurrection, he meets his disciples on a mountain and receives their act of worshipping him. The contrasting parallel is made complete by Jesus’ assurance to those who doubted that worshipping him was indeed appropriate: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (28:18). This is the authority that the devil claimed he could give to Jesus if Jesus would worship him. Now Jesus has that authority, not from the devil, but from God the Father. No higher validation of Jesus’ authority was possible. The evident parallels between Matthew 4:8-10 and 28:16-18 confirm that “worshipped” in 28:17 denotes the act of religious devotion that Jesus himself had stated should go to God alone.

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

Jesus then commands his disciples to go make more disciples from people of all nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19). Jesus, the Son, identifies himself alongside the Father and the Holy Spirit as the Deity to whom each new disciple is to commit himself in the covenant rite of baptism. The Father clearly is God, and as we shall see in week 5, the Holy Spirit in this text must also be God; it follows that the Son in this text is also God. If we exclude the idea that these are three Gods, as we should, the conclusion that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God follows. In any case, Jesus is here explicitly making himself, as the Son, one of the persons toward whom disciples perform a religious act of devotion and covenant commitment. There is no precedent in biblical religion for performing such religious acts in devotion to a mere man, no matter how great a man.

After instructing his disciples to teach new disciples to observe everything he commanded them, Jesus concludes: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:20). Here Jesus promises to be with all of his disciples, wherever they are in the world, as they make disciples of all nations, in every generation until the end of the age. Such a promise implies that Jesus has the capacity to be present in any and all parts of the world simultaneously. The statement recalls God’s promise to Jacob, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go” (Gen. 28:15). In short, Jesus’ promise presupposes that he possesses the divine attribute of omnipresence. Nor is this an isolated statement in the Gospel. Prior to his death, Jesus told his followers, “Where two or three have gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst” (18:20). Only someone who is omnipresent could deliver on a promise to be present in the midst of every gathering of believers anywhere in the world. Jewish rabbis taught that where two Jews sat together to hear the Torah, the Shekinah—the manifest glorious presence of God—would be with them. Jesus claims that his divine presence will be with any two disciples who meet together to honor him (see Putting Jesus in His Place, 117-18).

The evidence of this final statement in Matthew illuminates the reference toward the beginning of the Gospel to Jesus as “God with us” (1:23). Critics commonly argue that this expression means nothing more than that God was to be present through Jesus in his ministry and death. It means at least that much, of course, but in light of 18:20 and 28:20, it evidently means much more. Jesus promised that he himself would be present “with us” who believe in him whenever and wherever we gather in his name, and as we take the gospel to people of all nations. In this light, the statements in 1:23 and 28:20 form an inclusio, “bookends” statements in the Gospel revealing Jesus to be quite literally God with us.

John 1:1-18

Some of my remarks here come from Putting Jesus in His Place (138-42).

John’s Prologue (John 1:1-18) begins and ends with references to Jesus Christ as “God.” These statements form an inclusio, marking the beginning and the ending of the Prologue. Between these two statements that call Jesus God is a rich tapestry of affirmations about Jesus that confirm his identity as God.

John says that the Word was already existing (ēn) “in the beginning” (vv. 1, 2). The opening words of the Gospel, “In the beginning” (en archē), are the same as the opening words of the OT, “In the beginning” (Gen. 1:1). This is not mere coincidence, since both passages go on immediately to talk about creation and light (Gen. 1:1, 3-5; John 1:3-5, 9). Thus, attempts to circumvent this point by referring to other texts using the word “beginning” in other ways miss or ignore the contextual evidence. John states that everything that came into existence—the world itself—did so through the Word (vv. 3, 9). These statements affirming the Word’s existence before creation and his involvement in bringing about the existence of all creation reveal him to be eternal and uncreated—two essential attributes of God.

Naturally, then, John affirms that “the Word was God” (1:1c). Those who advocate Arian or polytheistic theologies can try to justify the revisionist translation “the Word was a god,” but consistent Unitarians cannot. Nor can they consistently maintain that the Word was God, since this would lead ineluctably to the conclusion that God became incarnate (1:14). This puts Biblical Unitarians in something of a bind. For example, a Christadelphian book online entitled Jesus: God the Son or Son of God? explains 1:1 by saying, “In Jewish religious thinking and writing Word and Wisdom had come to be applied to God Himself…. In the Aramaic commentaries of the time Memra (word) came to be used as a name for God.” But in the same breath the book states, “So logos, first a thought conceived in the mind, then demonstrated in action, stands for the wisdom of God expressed in His purpose. The Word represents therefore the mind of God.” What all this really means, according to the author, is that “the Son perfectly reflected the mind and wisdom of the Father.” So, from the straightforward acknowledgment that the Word was God, the author veers away to the more theologically palatable explanation that the Word was a thought in God’s mind that Jesus perfectly reflected. This seems to be the conventional Biblical Unitarian explanation. For example, a Biblical Unitarian website article on John 1:1 endorses Anthony Buzzard’s claim that what John meant was that the Word “was fully expressive of God.” But this is not what John 1:1 says.

To justify this linguistically indefensible construal of “the Word was God,” the Biblical Unitarian article contends that it is necessary to avoid a logical contradiction in 1:1. “Logically, nothing can be both ‘identical to’ and ‘with’ anything else. Thus, the sense in which ‘the word’ was ‘God’ is limited by this statement that it was also ‘with God,’ and points to a meaning closer to ‘represents,’ ‘manifests,’ or ‘reveals.’” But why should the second clause (“the Word was with God”) override the otherwise evident meaning of the third clause (“the Word was God”)? Why not argue that the third clause overrides the apparent meaning of the second clause? Better still, why not allow the apparent paradox to stand and accept what both clauses say about the Word? This is what Trinitarians do. We accept that the Word was someone existing with God (the Father) and that the Word was himself God (the Son). On the other hand, in their zeal to avoid a divine preexistent Christ, the Biblical Unitarians end up misconstruing both the second and third clauses. The second clause affirms that the Word was personally with God (pros ton theon, cf. 13:3), which Biblical Unitarians reinterpret to mean that the idea or plan or thought that God had about Jesus was “with him” in his mind, while they interpret the third clause to mean that the Word was the revelation or expression of God’s mind.

John writes, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (v. 14 niv). The word that the niv translates “made his dwelling” (eskēnōsen) literally meant to pitch one’s tent in a place, and it alludes in this context to God’s dwelling among the Israelites in the tabernacle. The tabernacle was essentially a tent where God would make his presence known to the Israelites and meet with them (Ex. 33:7-11; 40:35). Later, the temple served the same purpose as the tabernacle (cf. Ps. 74:7). John says that the Word that made his dwelling among us has the “glory as of the only Son from the Father” (v. 14 esv). The Son is just like his Father when it comes to glory.

John then says that the Son’s glory is “full of grace and truth” (v. 14). This description of the Son echoes God’s description of himself to Moses, who had asked to see God’s “glory” at the tent of meeting (Ex. 33:18). God’s response was to descend in a cloud and to proclaim that he is “abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Ex. 34:6 nasb). The revelation of God’s lovingkindness or grace and of God’s truth that came through Jesus superseded the revelation that came to and through Moses. John makes that plain two sentences later: “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (v. 17).

John also makes explicit an even more startling implication: the revelation that Moses received of God’s glory, of God himself, was only an anticipation of the revelation of God that came through his Son. John’s statement, “No one has ever seen God” (v. 18a), clearly recalls the Lord’s statement to Moses, “no man can see me and live” (Ex. 33:20). John concludes: “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18b NRSV). The textual evidence we have now strongly favors the use of theos here for Christ, and the best translation is the one quoted here from the NRSV (see Putting Jesus in His Place, 328 notes 14-15). In this text there can be no circumventing the fact that the one who makes the Father known is a real person distinct from the Father, yet this only Son of the Father is himself God. The apparent paradox of the opening sentence of the Prologue recurs in its closing sentence—just in case we missed it or didn’t believe it the first time! The Prologue thus affirms twice that Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is God.

John 20:26-31

Here again, much of what I say comes from Putting Jesus in His Place (142-44).

There is essentially no controversy among biblical scholars about the fact that in John 20:28 Thomas is referring to and addressing Jesus when he says, “My Lord and my God!” The reason is simple: John prefaces what Thomas said with the words, “Thomas answered and said to him” (v. 28a), that is, to Jesus. It is therefore certain that Thomas was directing his words to Jesus, not to the Father. Of course, no one would ever have questioned this obvious conclusion if Thomas had said simply “My Lord!” It is the addition of the words “and my God” that have sparked some creative but untenable interpretations of the text, such as Margaret Davies’s tortured explanation that “my God” referred to the Father while “my Lord” referred to the Son (Rhetoric and Reference in the Fourth Gospel [1992], 125-26).

The Biblical Unitarian website’s explanation is no more plausible. It asserts that the term “God” (theos) “was a descriptive title applied to a range of authorities” and that “it was used of someone with divine authority.” The article makes no attempt to demonstrate exegetically that such a weaker sense fits the context. Thomas’s words echo statements addressed in the Psalms to God, especially the following: “Wake up! Bestir yourself for my defense, for my cause, my God and my Lord!” (Ps. 35:23; cf. 5:2; 84:3). These words parallel those in John 20:28 exactly except for reversing “God” and “Lord.” More broadly, in biblical language “my God” can only refer (on the lips of a faithful believer) to the Lord God of Israel. The language is as definite as it could be and identifies Jesus Christ as God himself.

In identifying Jesus as God, Thomas did not of course mean that Jesus was the Father. Earlier in the same passage, Jesus had referred to the Father as his God. (This statement is consistent with the Gospel’s teaching that Jesus was the Word made flesh; as a human being, the incarnate Word-Son properly honors the Father as his God.) It is interesting to compare Jesus’ wording with the wording of Thomas. Jesus told Mary Magdalene, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). As in John 1:1 and 1:18, the Father is called “God” in close proximity to a statement affirming that Jesus is also “God.” The conventional Jewish usage in 20:17 ought to alert the reader that the same usage also applies in 20:28, however shocking or paradoxical that may seem.

John’s conclusion that he wants his readers to believe that Jesus is the Son of God (20:30-31) is not at odds with understanding Thomas’s statement in 20:28 as a model confession of Jesus as Lord and God. In the Prologue as well, John insists that Jesus is both God (1:1, 18) and the Son of God (1:14, 18). As D. A. Carson has observed, “This tension between unqualified statements affirming the full deity of the Word or of the Son, and those which distinguish the Word or the Son from the Father, are typical of the Fourth Gospel from the very first verse” (The Gospel According to John [1991], 344). We might dismiss one apparent instance of such paradoxical affirmations in close proximity as an anomaly or exegetical oddity. Three instances in the same book, positioned at key turning points, must be deliberate. Johannine Christology, whether we like it or not, deliberately affirms both that Jesus is God and that he is the Son of God.

To summarize, the Gospel of John refers to Jesus Christ explicitly as “God” three times: at the beginning and end of the Prologue (1:1, 18) and at the climax of the book (20:28). These three strategically placed affirmations make it clear that Jesus is and always has been God. As Murray Harris puts it, “In his preincarnate state (1:1), in his incarnate state (1:18), and in his postresurrection state (20:28), Jesus is God. For John, recognition of Christ’s deity is the hallmark of the Christian” (3 Crucial Questions about Jesus, 98-99).

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

Anti-Trinitarians commonly cite two texts in the Gospel of John to show that in this book Jesus actually denied that he was God. The first passage reads:

“Jesus answered, ‘Is it not written in your law, “I said, you are gods”? If those to whom the word of God came were called “gods”—and the scripture cannot be annulled—can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, “I am God’s Son”?’” (John 10:34-36).

First, in this passage Jesus simply does not deny that he is God. Anti-Trinitarians must wring such an implication from the text. Indeed, Christ’s comments here did not alleviate the Jews’ impression that he was claiming to be God (10:30). After Christ finished his response by saying, “the Father is in me and I am in the Father,” the Jewish authorities “tried again to arrest him” (vv. 38-39). Evidently, Jesus’ answer did not convince them that he was not blaspheming. If Jesus was not claiming divine equality or identity, it would have been easy enough to have said something like, “I’m not God; I’m just his Son, one of his creatures.” He never did so.

Second, in context Jesus was indeed claiming to be God. He had just asserted that he was the good shepherd who gives eternal life to his “sheep” and that “no one will snatch them out of my hand” (v. 28). He then says the same thing about the Father: “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (v. 29). These parallel statements allude to Old Testament texts in which the Lord God speaks of his divine power over life and death: “See now that I, even I, am he; there is no god besides me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and no one can deliver from my hand” (Deut. 32:39). “I am God, and also henceforth I am He; there is no one who can deliver from my hand” (Is. 43:13). Jesus is thus claiming an exclusively divine power in words clearly alluding to two of the strongest monotheistic statements of the Old Testament.

Jesus then follows up this claim with the famous saying, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). In this context, Jesus’ claim to be “one” with the Father appears very likely to be an allusion to the classic monotheistic statement of the Old Testament, the Shema (Deut. 6:4), in effect including himself with the Father in the oneness of God. (On this point, see my series on this blog, “In what sense are Jesus and the Father one?” and Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel [2008], 104-106.) This makes it quite understandable that his Jewish opponents would seek to stone him for blasphemy because they understood him to be making himself out to be God (John 10:33).

The second text in John that some cite to show that Jesus denied being God is Jesus’ statement in prayer, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (17:3). Again, though, Jesus does not actually deny that he is God.

First, what John 17:3 actually says is perfectly consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity. Trinitarianism affirms that the Father is the only true God. After all, if there is only one true God, and the Father is God, then the Father must be the only true God. It is also consistent with the Trinity to affirm that the Father sent Jesus Christ.

So what’s the problem? Anti-Trinitarians think that the sentence creates a disjunction between “the only true God” and “Jesus Christ,” implying that Jesus Christ is not the only true God. But this is not quite correct. John 17:3 does distinguish between the Father (“you”) and “Jesus Christ,” and in this same statement identifies the Father as “the only true God,” but the statement does not deny that Jesus Christ is also true God. Rather, Christ is honoring the Father as the only true God (which he is!) while trusting the Father to exalt him at the proper time. Thus, Jesus immediately goes on to affirm that he had devoted his time on earth to glorifying the Father (v. 4) and to ask the Father in turn to glorify him (v. 5).

If John 17:3 did mean that the Father was the only true God to the exclusion of Jesus Christ, then it would be odd for John in other passages to affirm that Christ is God. If there is only one true God, and Jesus is not that God, then he is not truly God at all. Yet John explicitly calls Jesus “God,” and does so in contexts that make it clear that he is God no less than the Father.

I conclude that neither John 10:34-36 nor 17:3 blunts the force of the opening and climactic passages of the Gospel, which teach that Jesus Christ is God.

34 Responses to “The Great Trinity Debate, Part 2: Rob Bowman on Jesus Christ”

  1. In his “trinities” blog, Dale Tuggy offers some criticisms of my second-round post here. He writes:

    “I suppose he thinks it unnecessary to make a comprehensive case for the reading the Bible as implying the divinity of Jesus, because that’s all in the book. So here, Bowman chooses to play defense.”

    No, I think that in the limited space that Dave Burke and I agreed to give ourselves, it is not possible to make the case comprehensively, at least without treating all of the evidence in a very superficial fashion. (I would not expect Dave to try to make a comprehensive case, either.) Furthermore, I maintain that our Christology should be anchored in what I argued are the “major passages” on the subject. In providing a more careful exposition of a limited number of major passages and arguing that these passages all reveal Jesus Christ to be God, I am hardly “playing defense.”

    In the rest of this comment, I’ll focus on Dale’s objections to my handling of Matthew 28:16-20.

    According to Dale, it is an “oddball reading” to understand Matthew 28:17 to mean that some disciples doubted the propriety of worshipping Jesus. His suggestion is that “some doubted” because he was standing too far away at first. Right — that explains why verse 18 says, “And Jesus came and said, ‘See, it’s really me….'” Oh wait, that isn’t what verse 18 says. Sorry, I still think my reading fits the context better and that Dale is importing a scenario from other resurrection narratives.

    I see no difficulty at all in Jesus being “given” authority if he was already God, assuming that Jesus was not *simply* God but was God the Son, self-humbled to become a man. Authority is a matter of status, not an ontological attribute (i.e., “authority” is not the same thing as “power”). If you humble yourself, you place yourself in a position to be exalted.

    Dale faults me for being “unable to imagine other readings” of the baptismal command in Matthew 28:19 (i.e., other than that all three persons named in the text are Deity). In support, he refers his readers to another blog entry (http://trinities.org/blog/archives/325). I read it, and it does not offer an alternate explanation, much less defend one. Rather, Dale argues there that Matthew 28:19 is not concerned about the precise words to say in baptism and that the singular word “name” does not mean all three persons have the same name. I agree with him on both counts. So?

    Dale’s main objection to the inference from Matthew 28:20 that Jesus is omnipresent is that Jesus was also embodied. Now who has a lack of imagination? I’m sure Dale already knows the orthodox answer to this objection. Dale also asks why God couldn’t make a creature omnipresent “in _some_ sense.” The qualification, which tells us nothing about what that sense would be, makes the question meaningless. Sure, God can make a creature (fill in the blank), as long as we leave (fill in the blank) undefined. Dale throws in the qualification “in _some_ sense” presumably because he agrees that God could not make a creature *really* (“literally”) omnipresent. The point in Matthew 28:20 (and 18:20) is that Christ speaks about his presence with his people in terms that clearly echo Jewish ways of speaking about the presence of God with his people (as I explained in my post).

    Finally, it’s interesting to see how Dale has backed off his criticism of the traditional Trinitarian understanding of Matthew 1:23 (where Jesus is described as “God with us”), while not making it seem like he’s backed off. In his blog comment on Dave’s post, Dale applauded Dave for “dismantling the lame argument” that Matthew 1:23 “implies that Jesus is God.” But in his critique of my post, he claims that the issue is “a draw” and that Dave showed only that “it is not arbitrary to read ‘Immanuel’ as not implying that.” Sounds like progress to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  3. Matthew 28:16-20
    Rob,

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

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

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

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

    (See Liddell-Scott Greek Lexicon).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    (See Liddell-Scott Greek Lexicon).

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

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

    Next:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  4. John 1:1-18 (I)
    Rob,

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

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

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

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

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

    Several verses make this explicit:

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

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

  5. John 1:1-18 (II)
    Rob,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  6. John 1:1-18 (III)
    Rob,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    (My emphasis).

    William Barclay (The Gospel of John, 1955):

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

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

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

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

  7. John 1:1-18 (IV)
    Rob,

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

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

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

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

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

    You criticise an article on the Biblical Unitarian website without addressing its substance, objecting only to the statement that “theos” was “a descriptive title applied to a range of authorities.” Were you genuinely unaware of this, Rob? It’s in all the standard literature. Trinitarian Murray Harris (Jesus as God: the New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus, 1992) acknowledges the word “was capable of extremely diverse application, ranging from the images of pagan deities to the one true God of Israel, from heroic people to angelic beings” (p. 270). Texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls use “theos” of Melchizedek (11Q13 2:9-11; 21-25). The Liddell-Scott Greek Lexicon provides a full range of applications (entry here), including “God”, “special divinities”, “title of rulers” and “one set in authority; judge.” Jesus uses “theos” this way in John 10:35, making it indisputable.

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

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

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

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

    (My emphasis).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    (My emphasis).

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

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

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

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

    (Didache 11.4).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Since I will be re-visiting some of these issues next week, you may have the last word on this thread.

  10. I scratch my head sometimes when I read simple statements in Scripture and men complicate those scriptures.

    A number of questions arise to those who accept trinitarian logic.

    Where do we see anywhere in scripture a clear understanding of the trinity? (consubstantial unity)

    Where do we find the apostles or Jesus ever trying to explain this doctrine to the Jewish monothistic religions of the day?

    Where do we see a separation between being and person?

    Where is it ever said that Jesus ever taught duelism.

    There are many more questions that just do not fir trinitarian logic.

    I am not a Jehovah’s witness but I am studying with them.

    Bill Niswonger

  11. Bill – I’d beware of drinking the JW cool-aid! Even if their subordinationist unitarian christology is appealing, they have a long record of false predictions, idiosyncratic Bible interpretation, ridiculous exclusivism, and damaging legalisms, just off the top of my head. You can easily google up all of this. God’s headquarters on earth may not be in Rome, but they aren’t in Brooklyn either.

  12. With respect Dave, acceptance of Jesus as God’s Wisdom can be done by scholars like Ben Witherington without rejecting trinitarianism.

    I believe it was Philo who proposed that the three men who visited Abraham were God, his Wisdom and his Royal Power. Even within Jewish thought (well, Hellenized Jewish thought) there was a capacity to see God’s attributes as semi-personified and capable of distinct action.

  13. I find Dave Burke’s explanation fascinating and spot-on. I have gone to some of the links of where people are talking about how well Dave did. It seems many dismiss any evidence provided and go right back to the few (misunderstood) verses Dave spent so much time explaining. I hope this is not in vain and people consider these things carefully and are open-minded.

  14. EXEGESIS REDUX

    Dave,

    Your criticism of my argument for focusing on “major passages” is mystifying to me. I do not see how it in any way challenges Luther’s view that Scripture is sufficiently clear for us to know what God wants us to believe for salvation. I completely agree with that principle. Nor do I see how I am changing my exegetical method from what I stated previously. Is there a “theological agenda” behind my rejection of the common claim that we should interpret the “unclear” passages in light of the “clear” ones? No, unless you call wanting all Scripture to be given fair consideration in doctrinal discussions a “theological agenda.”

    You say, “Christianity is best served by taking into account all Biblical evidence.” I agree; but I’m sure you also would agree that John 1:1-18 is a more fruitful passage to work over carefully in studying Christology than 1 Chronicles 7. Look at it this way: In effect, I am arguing that the more a passage fits those eight criteria of a major passage, the more it will provide a “clear” teaching on the subject.

    You wrote:

    “We must not pick and choose selectively, but address passages apparently unfavourable to our Christology and show their congruence with our beliefs. I presented a detailed examination of at least 7 such passages in my opening argument; you looked briefly at 2.”

    It’s not my fault if there are so few texts that even seem to pose any difficulty for my Christology.

    You wrote:

    “The way to break our interpretive deadlock is simple; teach me the Trinity the way the apostles taught those they baptised. Use the arguments they recorded in Scripture, the concepts they described, the OT verses they quoted. I invite our readers to look at Acts 2 and see what the apostles taught before baptising their converts.”

    After chiding me for supposedly trying to disqualify from the discussion biblical passages that seem unfavorable to my position, you are asking me to demonstrate the whole of my theological position from a chapter of your choosing. That won’t fly here, my friend.

    Acts 2 does not tell us what catechetical instruction the apostles might have presented to people before baptizing them. Peter’s speech in Acts 2:14-36 is not a pre-baptismal doctrinal lecture; it is an evangelistic sermon in which Peter explained the supernatural phenomena the people in Jerusalem had seen that day and in which Peter argued that Jesus had risen from the dead in fulfillment of the Scriptures. Luke may not even have given us a complete transcript of the sermon, which could be delivered orally in less than ten minutes.

    It is not possible to derive all of the most basic doctrines about Jesus, even those on which Christadelphians agree with orthodox Christians, from Peter’s speech in Acts 2. For example, Peter says nothing there about Jesus’ virgin birth or about Jesus personally returning to the earth. Sorry, I simply cannot take your challenge seriously.

  15. MATTHEW 28:16-20

    Dave,

    You began your comment on Matthew 28:16-20 with the following assertion:

    “Your argument relies obviously on the English translation, failing to engage with the Greek.”

    Really, Dave? Or perhaps I should write, Really, Dave!

    Frankly, I am embarrassed for you, making such an absurd statement. To demonstrate that I supposedly failed to engage the Greek text, you offer a typical anti-Trinitarian word study of proskuneō (“worship”), emphasizing the many texts where the word in non-religious contexts refers to acts of respect toward human kings and other dignitaries. Dave, since you claim to have read my book Putting Jesus in His Place (you have even cited pages from it), you have no excuse for making this sort of criticism. Putting Jesus in His Place includes a discussion about the non-religious uses of proskuneō and explains their irrelevance to religious acts (37-38). It also includes a lengthy, two-page endnote (!) on a technical point concerning the Greek wording of Matthew 28:17 (294-95) and engages other subtle points not generally suitable for a public debate of this type. What I did instead in my brief discussion of Matthew 28:17 in this debate was to explain simply why the statement “they worshipped him” in context is a religious act of devotion to a supernatural, divine being, not a social act of courtesy or respect to a human superior.

    My suggestion that some disciples “doubted” the propriety of worshipping Jesus is not that big a point on its own, but you (and Dale Tuggy) apparently think it’s ridiculous. You claim to have searched a dozen commentaries without finding anyone who agreed with it. Is that going to be the litmus test of the acceptability of an exegetical claim? As a matter of fact, Daniel J. Harrington, in his Matthew commentary in the Sacra Pagina series, tentatively accepts the same explanation, and other commentators have taken a similar, though vaguer, position that the disciples’ doubts were confusion as to how they should respond to the risen Jesus. I only know of one commentator that explicitly rejects the explanation (Keener), and I responded to his criticism in Putting Jesus in His Place (295 n. 8).

    You wrote:

    “Strangely, you insist that ‘worship’ presented to Jesus in this verse is necessarily religious, offering no evidence to support this, but merely cross-referencing Matthew 4:1-11, where Jesus tells the tempter that only God may be worshipped.”

    Those who simply want your position to be defended may find this to be an adequate representation of my argument, but anyone else who simply reads my explanation will know that you have missed the point.

    Most of what you say about proskuneō and other words is irrelevant, because it fails to engage my argument at all. You claim:

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

    If the proskuneō was not religious in nature, why did the angel refuse it? And please tell me where Jesus ever refused *any* act of worship or show of honor to him?

    Like everyone else who denies the deity of Christ, you cannot resist the argument from silence that the lack of any use of the verb latreuō (or of the sebomai word group) in reference to Jesus somehow counts against his being God. The verb sebomai in all forms occurs only 10 times in the NT and the noun sebasma occurs only 2 times. This is simply too small a pool of occurrences for the argument from silence to be of any value at all, even as part of an inductive argument. The verb latreuō and related noun latreia occur 26 times in the NT, still not very many. Furthermore, Jesus (“the Lamb”) appears to be included in the act of latreuō in Revelation 22:3, though the text is grammatically ambiguous (see also Dan. 7:14 and my discussion in Putting Jesus in His Place, 67-68). There are also other ways in which the NT speaks of Jesus as the object of religious or cultic (ritual) worship (see Putting Jesus in His Place, 66-67). If the NT rarely speaks of Jesus as the object of cultic worship, this is because Jesus has taken the position of sacrifice and priest on our behalf, as Hebrews teaches.

    You objected that the orthodox view that the act of the Son humbling himself in becoming incarnate and dying for our sins necessitated that the Father exalt him in his resurrection and ascension “is wholly inadequate because it is not declared in Scripture…. Where is the evidence a pre-existent Jesus consciously decided to come as a servant? This is implicit in your claim, but no proof is offered.” I have offered a detailed defense of this claim in my exposition of Philippians 2:3-11 in the third round of our debate; enjoy. You may reject the claim, but it is not ad hoc, as you insisted.

    I will defend my understanding of Matthew 28:19 in the fifth round.

    Finally, your objections to the implication of omnipresence from Matthew 28:20 and 18:20 fall quite short. Your comparison of Matthew 28:20 with Colossians 2:5 isn’t serious, is it? You don’t mean that Jesus is with his followers in the same way that Paul was with the Colossians, do you? If I announced on this blog, “And lo, I, Rob Bowman, am with you always to the end of the age,” what would that mean to you? Your rejection of the allusion to the divine presence (Shekinah) in Matthew 18:20—you unfairly call it “bait and switch”—fails to engage the evidence (see Putting Jesus in His Place, 117-18, and the references cited, 319 n. 8). Cross-referencing Matthew 28:20 with some verses in John about the Holy Spirit to eliminate the implication of omnipresence in Matthew’s reported sayings of Jesus is not sound hermeneutical method. In any case, even if Jesus’ presence is mediated through the Holy Spirit, his promise to be with all of his disciples everywhere throughout the age implies a transcendent ability to keep track of what millions of believers are doing at the same time, and so still entails some sort of transcendent, divine ability beyond that of any creature. I raise this point with regard to the NT teaching about praying to Jesus in my discussion of Romans 10 in the third round.

  16. WHY DOES JOHN 1:1-3 NOT MENTION “JESUS”?

    Dave,

    You wrote:

    “John 1:1-3 contains no mention of Christ; why do you see him there? If John had meant ‘in the beginning was Jesus…’ why did he not say so? He knew how to write ‘Jesus’, but chose to say ‘logos’ instead. You make no attempt to explain this, though it is a critical point revealing a reluctance to accept Scripture at face value. Note the gaps in this interpretation. Why does ‘logos’ mean ‘Jesus’ instead of ‘logos’; why does John use this word instead of writing plainly that Jesus pre-existed as God?”

    I have quoted in full your highly repetitive series of questions (essentially making the same point five times), because the fact that you treat this one question (why does John write “logos” instead of “Jesus”?) as if it were a coup de grace to my understanding of the text is worth emphasizing. In fact, it is nothing of the kind. For example, Hebrews speaks about the “Son” at great length, beginning at 1:1, but does not get around to referring to him as “Jesus” until 2:9! (Hebrews also does not refer to him as “Christ” until 3:6.) Paul’s famous Christological passage, Colossians 1:15-20, ironically never uses the name “Jesus,” or “Christ” (the name “Jesus” is nowhere to be found from 1:5 through 2:5; the title “Christ” is missing from 1:8 through 1:23). Even in the Johannine Prologue, the name “Jesus Christ” appears only once, in 1:17, and the passage does not say explicitly that Jesus Christ is the one to which 1:14 refers when it says “the Word became flesh.” So, are you going to be consistent and deny that John 1:14 is about Jesus, or that Colossians 1:15-20 is about Jesus, or that Hebrews 1 is about Jesus?

  17. TRANSLATING THEOS IN JOHN 1:1

    Dave, I am quite familiar with the scholarly discussion that has gone on for decades about the preverbal anarthrous predicate nominative theos in John 1:1c. In fact, I practically wrote a book on it. My first book was Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of John (Baker, 1989), and the first part of the book was all about John 1:1 (17-84). I’ll be blunt: An awful lot of what has been written about this issue is simply inaccurate.

    Let me make just one basic observation regarding your preferred translation “divine” for theos in John 1:1c. I am not aware of a single text in the Bible other than John 1:1 where any scholar has proposed translating the nominative theos (subject or predicate, before or after the verb!) as “divine.” Here are all of the instances of anarthrous theos (whether subject or predicate) in the NT; texts with preverbal anarthrous predicate theos (as in John 1:1c) are marked with an asterisk:

    “[He is] God not of the dead but of the living” (Mark 12:27; postverbal predicate)
    *“Now he is God not of the dead but of the living” (Luke 20:38; preverbal predicate)
    *“…and the Word was God” (John 1:1c, preverbal predicate)
    “God the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has explained him” (John 1:18b, subject)
    *“My Father…of whom you say, ‘He is our God’” (John 8:54, preverbal predicate)
    “The one who justifies [is] God” (Rom. 8:33, predicate, presubject, no verb)
    “…[there is] no God but one” (1 Cor. 8:4, predicate, no subject or verb expressed)
    “but for us [there is] one God, the Father…” (1 Cor. 8:6, predicate, no subject or verb expressed)
    “The one who establishes us…and anointed us [is] God” (2 Cor. 1:21, postsubject, predicate, no verb)
    “The one who prepared us for this thing [is] God” (2 Cor. 5:5, postsubject, predicate, no verb)
    “That God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19, subject, preverbal)
    “…and I will be their God…” (2 Cor. 6:16, predicate, postverbal)
    “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked” (Gal. 6:7, subject, preverbal)
    “[There is]…one God and Father of all…” (Eph. 4:6, predicate, no subject or verb expressed)
    *“For the one working in you is God” (Phil. 2:13, predicate, preverbal)
    “…God [ is] witness…” (1 Thess. 2:5, subject, no verb)
    “[The man of lawlessness]…declares himself that he is God” (2 Thess. 2:4, predicate, postverbal)
    “For [there is] one God…” (1 Tim. 2:5; predicate, no subject or verb expressed)
    “…the builder of all things [is] God” (Heb. 3:4, predicate, postsubject, no verb)
    *“God [subj.] is not ashamed to be called their God [pred.]” (Heb. 11:16, predicate, preverbal)
    “…and I will be their God…” (Rev. 21:7, predicate, postverbal)

    The Greek OT, or Septuagint (LXX), is translation Greek, so we should be a bit cautious about basing too much on its use of the anarthrous theos, but it turns out the same pattern applies. The Greek OT never uses the anarthrous nominative theos to mean “divine.” There are too many occurrences to list them all here, so I will list only texts in which anarthrous theos occurs with the “to be” verb (mostly estin, “is”). All quotations are from the LXX, which sometimes differs from the English Bible, but verse references are to the English Bible:

    “…to be your God and your seed’s after you” (Gen. 17:7; predicate, postverbal)
    “…and I will be their God” (Gen. 17:8; Ex. 29:45; Ezek. 37:27; predicate, postverbal)
    “…and I will be your God” (Ex. 6:7; Lev. 26:12; predicate, postverbal)
    *“…and to be their God” (Ex. 29:46, predicate, preverbal)
    *“The LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Ex. 34:14; predicate, preverbal)
    “…to be your God” (Lev. 11:45; 22:33; 25:38; Num. 15:41; predicate, postverbal)
    “…to be their God” (Lev. 26:45; predicate, postverbal)
    “For what God is in heaven or on earth who will do what you have done” (Deut. 3:24, subject, postverbal)
    “For the LORD…is a jealous God” (Deut. 4:24, predicate, postverbal)
    *“…he is God…” (Deut. 4:35, predicate, preverbal)
    “…the LORD…he [is] God…” (Deut. 4:39, predicate, postsubject, no verb)
    “The true God…God [is] faithful” (Deut. 32:4, subject, no verb expressed)
    “No foreign god was with him” (Deut. 32:12, subject, postverbal)
    “…[there] is no God besides me” (Deut. 32:39, predicate, postverbal)
    “The God, God is Lord, and the God, God, [the] Lord!” (Josh. 22:22, subject, preverbal)
    *“…he is God…” (Josh. 24:17, predicate, preverbal)
    *“…for he is our God” (Josh. 24:18, predicate, preverbal)
    “…for God is holy” (Josh. 24:19, subject, preverbal)
    *“…if he is a god, let him plead for himself” (Judg. 6:31, predicate, preverbal)
    “…so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (1 Sam. 17:46, predicate, postverbal)
    “…[there] is no God besides you” (2 Sam. 7:22, predicate, postverbal)
    “There is no God like you…” (1 Kings 8:23, predicate, postverbal)
    “…he [is] God…” (1 Kings 8:60, predicate, postsubject, no verb)
    *“Call upon him [Baal] with a loud voice, since [he] is god” (1 Kings 18:27, predicate, preverbal)
    “…[there] is no God in all the earth except in Israel” (2 Kings 5:15, predicate, postverbal)
    “[There] is no God like you” (2 Chron. 6:14, predicate, postverbal)
    “Are you not God in heaven” (2 Chron. 20:6, predicate, postverbal)
    *“You are not a God desiring wickedness” (Ps. 5:5 [5:4]; predicate, preverbal)
    “The fool has said in his heart, ‘[There] is no God’” (Ps. 14:1 and 53:1, predicate, postverbal)
    *“You have been my God…” (Ps. 22:10 [21:11]; predicate, preverbal)
    *“Behold, I know that you are my God” (Ps. 56:9 [55:10]; predicate, preverbal)
    “You are my Father, my God…” (Ps. 89:26 [88:27]; predicate, postverbal)
    *“You are my God…you are my God” (Ps. 118:28 [117:28]; predicate, preverbal)
    *“You are my God” (Ps. 140:6 [139:7]; predicate, preverbal)
    *“You are God alone” (Isa. 37:16; predicate, preverbal)
    “…besides me [there] is no God” (Isa. 44:6, predicate, postverbal)
    “Is there any God besides me?” (Isa. 44:8, predicate, postverbal)
    *“‘You are my god!’” (Isa. 44:17; predicate, preverbal)
    “…besides me no God” (Isa. 45:5, predicate, no verb expressed)
    “…there is no God besides him” (Isa. 45:14, predicate, postverbal)
    “You are God, and we did not know” (Is. 45:15; predicate, postverbal)
    *“Am I a God nearby…” (Jer. 23:23; predicate, preverbal)
    “‘I am a god…’ You are a man and no god” (Ezek. 28:2, 9 [repeated]; predicate, preverbal [a], postverbal [b])
    “Surely your God is God [pred.] of gods…” (Dan. 2:47, predicate, postverbal)
    “Who is the God that will rescue you…” (Dan. 3:15 [Th.]; predicate, postverbal)
    “…there is no other God…” (Dan. 3:29, predicate, postverbal)
    “…that he is the living God…” (Dan. 6:27 [Th.]; predicate, postverbal)
    *“The workman made it, and [it] is not God” (Hos. 8:6, predicate, preverbal)
    *“…because I am God, and not man” (Hos. 11:9; predicate, preverbal)
    “Who is a God like you” (Micah 7:18, predicate, no verb)

    Here are also some examples from the Apocrypha:

    “…because [a] God who hates unrighteousness is with them” (Judith 5:17, subject, preverbal)
    “…you are God of the lowly” (Judith 9:11; predicate, postverbal)
    “…you are the God, God of all power and might” (Judith 9:14, predicate, postverbal)
    “…your God shall be my God” (Judith 11:23; predicate, postverbal)
    *“…confess that he alone is God” (2 Macc. 7:37, predicate, preverbal)
    *“Nor is there any God besides you” (Wisdom 12:13, predicate, preverbal)
    “There is no God but you, Lord” (Sirach 36:5 [36:4], predicate, postverbal)

    Do translators ever use “divine” as a translation for any form of theos? I checked several standard English translations (ASV, ESV, KJV, NASB, NET, NIV, NJB, NKJV, NRSV), and here is what I found. A few translations (particularly the ESV and the NRSV) translate the genitive theou or tou theou (“of God” or “God’s”) as “divine” in a few places (Matt. 16:23; Rom. 3:25; 2 Cor. 11:2; 1 Tim. 1:4; 1 Peter 3:20). These translations also translate the dative theō or tō theō (“to/for God”) once or twice as “divine” (Luke 2:52; 2 Cor. 10:4). The article or lack thereof has nothing to do with this rendering, and in none of these texts is theos nominative.

    The NET Bible, by the way, never translates theos in any of its grammatical forms as “divine.” This fact disproves your criticism of its rendering of theos in John 1:1 as “theological spin.” The evidence I have presented here shows that the translation “divine” is not, as you claim, “a Christologically neutral reading.”

    The evidence amassed above shows that translators really have only two choices with regard to the nominative theos in John 1:1, unless they simply choose to paraphrase. Those choices are “God” and “a God.” The translation “divine” is paraphrase (at best). Actually, “a God” is not a valid option, either, because the Bible uses theos indefinitely in this way only when it is qualified (e.g., “Am I a God nearby”), which it does not in John 1:1c. The NWT rendering “a god” does not fit biblical usage, as documented above, and is also contextually erroneous, since (as you must agree) John does not view the Logos as a second deity. This means that “God” is the only accurate, literal translation.

  18. IS THE LOGOS A PERSON IN JOHN 1?

    Dave,

    In your comments here on John 1:1-18, you attempt to disprove that the Logos was a preexistent person. However, in the course of your comments, you inadvertently contradicted yourself—or at least seemed to contradict yourself. In Part I of your reply on John 1, you wrote:

    “God created directly and personally, without divine agency or proxy.”

    However, in Part III, you wrote:

    “The word ‘by’ is rendered ‘through’ (Greek dia, ‘through’ or ‘by means of’; not ‘ek’, ‘by’ or ‘from’). This better renders the original text, which tells us that the logos itself was the agent of creation but not the origin of creation.”

    Thus, you state both that God created “without divine agency” and that God created with an “agent of creation,” specifically, the Logos. Now, obviously you meant that God created without a personal divine agent, but the verbal discrepancy exposes a serious difficulty with your position. The difficulty is evident when one compares the following texts:

    “All things [ta panta] came into being through him [di’ autou egeneto], and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:3).
    “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him [di’ autou egeneto]; yet the world did not know him” (John 1:9-10).

    Clearly, “him” (autou) in 1:10 must have the same referent as “him” (autou) in verse 3, since autou in both occurrences of the words di’ autou egeneto must have the same referent. Yet you acknowledged that this “light” is “definitely a person: Jesus Christ,” when you wrote:

    “In verses 3-14 John refers to ‘the light’. The light is equated with the ‘life’ which John describes as being ‘in’ the logos (verse 4: ‘In it was life, and the life was the light of mankind’). This life/light is definitely a person: Jesus Christ.”

    You are right on this point, of course, but what you say here really disproves your view that the Logos is not a person. If “the light” in these verses (you said verses 3-14, but you clearly meant verses 4-14) is “definitely a person,” specifically Jesus Christ, then the Logos of verses 1-3 must also be “definitely a person,” because verse 10 simply repeats in slightly different words about the Light what verse 3 already said about the Logos. There is no plausible exegetical way to argue that “all things came into being through him” (v. 3) refers to something different from “the world came into being through him” (v. 10).

    Speaking of implausible exegesis, in Part III you attempt to explain egeneto in verse 10 to mean “split” or “divided”:

    “However, ginomai can also mean ‘split’ or ‘divided’, as Revelation 16:19 (“The great city was split [ginomai] into three parts”, NET; definition, full semantic range).”

    What you have done here is to look through all of the different English words used in the NET Bible where the Greek has ginomai and seize on one that you think might fit an understanding of John 1:10 that would apply to Jesus’ earthly life. The truth is that the translation “split” (or “divided”) is no more relevant to John 1:10 than “developed,” “gripped,” “grieved,” or most of the other words that you found on that list. Your mistake is in thinking that these are all meanings of the individual word ginomai. They aren’t. The NET Bible, like any other decent translation, translates phrases and sentences, not simply individual words in isolation. In the case of Revelation 16:19, the relevant Greek linguistic unit is not egeneto in isolation, but the expression egeneto eis tria merē (word for word, “came to be into three parts”). Instead of woodenly translating “the great city came to be into three parts,” the NET Bible translates the Greek here into idiomatically smooth English, “the great city was split into three parts.” But ginomai itself never “means” to split or divide; it is the expression ginomai eis that can convey this meaning in some contexts. Of course, this usage does not appear in John 1:10 (or in 1:3).

    In John 1:10, then, the statement that the world di’ autou egeneto simply does not mean that the world was divided through him, any more than John 1:3 means that all things were divided through him. Both statements mean that the totality of creation (all things, the world) came into being through him (the Logos/the true Light).

    Elsewhere in your comments on the Johannine Prologue, you quote with approval James Dunn’s claim that the Logos is not personal until verse 14: “The conclusion which seems to emerge is that it is only with verse 14 that we can begin to speak of the personal logos…. Prior to verse 14 we are in the same realm as pre-Christian talk of Wisdom and logos, the same language and ideas that we find in the Wisdom tradition and in Philo, where, as we have seen, we are dealing with personifications rather than persons, personified actions of God rather than an individual divine being as such…. In other words, the revolutionary significance of v. 14 may well be that it marks not only the transition in the thought of the poem from pre-existence to incarnation, but also the transition from impersonal personification to actual person.”

    I don’t know how this claim coheres with your claim that the Light of verses 9-10 is the person of Jesus Christ. I suppose you could argue that verse 14 tells us how the Logos became personal, while verses 9-10 anticipate the reaction of people when the Logos/Light became personal in Jesus. But in any case, verse 10 seems to pose a problem for your view.

    These Johannine statements in John 1:3, 10 are comparable to confessional statements in other parts of the NT where the subject of the confession is explicitly the person we call Jesus Christ:

    “For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom [di’ hou] are all things [ta panta] and we through him [di’ autou]” (1 Cor. 8:6).
    “…all things [ta panta] have been created through him through him [di’ autou] and for him” (Col. 1:16b).
    “…in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom [di’ hou] he also created the worlds” (Heb. 1:2).

    1 Corinthians 8:6 explicitly applies the same language as John 1:3, that “all things” are “through him,” to the “one Lord, Jesus Christ.” Colossians 1:16 says that “all things have been created through him,” that is, in context, through the Father’s “beloved Son” (see v. 13). Hebrews 1:2 explicitly and directly refers to the “Son” as the one “through whom” God created the worlds. To sum up:

    All things came into being through him (the Logos, John 1:3)
    The world came into being through him (the true Light, John 1:10)
    All things are through him (the one Lord, Jesus Christ, 1 Cor. 8:6)
    All things were created through him (the Father’s beloved Son, Col. 1:16)
    God created the worlds through him (the Son, Heb. 1:2)

    Thus, to claim that the Logos is not a person in John 1:1-3 really flies in the face of the consistent confessional tradition evident in all of these major, classic Christological passages in the NT, since in Paul and Hebrews these affirmations clearly understand the person of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the one through whom all things were created. Sorry, but with all due respect I must disagree with Dunn as well as with Colin Brown, whom you quote as criticizing the equation of the Logos with the Son. (Brown was my systematic theology professor at Fuller Seminary thirty years ago, by the way.) The Logos is the Son, as the above parallel confessional statements in context make abundantly clear. What John says about the Logos, Paul and Hebrews explicitly say about the Son. A careful side-by-side comparison of these confessional passages only adds further confirmation of this point:

    • He is “God” (John 1:1, 18; Heb. 1:8)
    • He existed before creation (John 1:1-2; Col. 1:17; implied, Heb. 1:2)
    • All things/the world came into being/were created through him (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2)
    • He is the “Son”/monogenēs (John 1:14, 18; Col. 1:13; Heb. 1:2)
    • He is “the firstborn” (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:6; cf. monogenēs, John 1:14)
    • He is exactly like God the Father (John 1:14; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3)
    • He sustains or holds together all things (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3; implied in the term Logos, John 1:1)

    Despite the fact that these three authors each have their own distinctive vocabulary, style, and approach, their affirmations about the Son show a remarkable degree of overlap and theological convergence. Given this shared Christological confessional perspective, the arguments denying the personhood of the preincarnate Logos in John 1 or to dispute that the Logos is identical to the Son must be rejected. They simply fail to engage all the evidence.

    Finally, the rest of the Gospel of John makes statements about Christ and report statements by Christ himself that confirm that he existed as a real person prior to the “becoming flesh” of John 1:14. I discussed two of these in some detail in round 4 of this debate (John 13:3; 16:28), and there are others as well (e.g., John 8:58; 17:5). When we take these statements together with the evidence of the Prologue (instead of trying to divide and conquer them separately and therefore apart from their context in the book as a whole), the conclusion that Jesus existed as the Logos before his human life turns out to enjoy extremely solid support.

  19. DID THE LOGOS CEASE TO BE THE LOGOS?

    Dave,

    On John 1:14, you wrote:

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

    This is an interesting claim. The word egeneto (ginomai in this or in other forms) can be used in contexts where what you say applies. I don’t think John 2:9 is the best example, since wine is actually about 80 to 90 per cent water! Nevertheless, I agree that ginomai could be used in a context where “X” becomes “Y” and ceases to be “X.” However, the word ginomai does not denote or necessarily imply that such is the case. Back up from John 1:14 just two verses, and we find the following statement: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become [genesthai, aorist infinitive of ginomai] children of God” (John 1:12). Those who received Jesus and believed in his name did not cease being those who received Jesus and believed in his name when they “became” children of God. When Jesus said, “The water that I will give him will become [genēsetai] in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14), obviously the water did not cease to be water. So we will have to determine from the context and whatever we can learn from other passages whether such an implication is applicable in John 1:14.

    Your claim, if I understand you correctly, is that the Logos ceased to be the Logos when it became flesh. This is an odd claim. If the Logos is the impersonal thought or word or reason or wisdom of God, as seems to be your position, then the Logos would seem to be an attribute of God, and so it seems problematic to assert that the Logos ceased to be the Logos when it became flesh.

    From my perspective, given that the Logos is a person and is himself God (theos, John 1:1), as I have argued in the preceding comments, it follows that the Logos could not have ceased being the Logos when he became flesh. I take it as axiomatic that whatever is God cannot cease being God; therefore, since the Logos is God, he cannot have ceased being who and what he is when he became flesh.

  20. JOHN 20:28

    Dave, you wrote:

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

    I’m not clear what point you think you were making here. First of all, my discussion of John 20:28 did not open this round’s post. The only “section” where John 20:28 is the lead topic is the short section on John 20:26-31. Second, you seem to feel that you are scoring a point if you can say that you expected me to bring up a particular text. It would be odd in a marathon debate on the Trinity if I never brought up John 20:28, just as it would be odd if a Biblical Unitarian never brought up John 17:3.

    Third, if there are four places in Scripture that refer to Jesus as theos so explicitly that even Biblical Unitarians are forced to admit those occurrences, the evidence that the Bible calls Jesus theos is pretty strong after all. In your second-round post, you had claimed with regard to texts cited as calling Jesus theos that “virtually all of them can be understood differently due to textual variations and contextual/grammatical issues.” You went on to discuss most of those texts, allowing only Hebrews 1:8 as a text that explicitly calls Jesus theos, though you said nothing in that post about John 1:1 or 20:28. In your comments responding here to my second-round post, you denied that John 1:1 calls Jesus theos. So you acknowledged only two places where Scripture explicitly refers to Jesus as theos. I think we would all be interested to know what those other two texts are.

    You wrote:

    “You criticise an article on the Biblical Unitarian website without addressing its substance, objecting only to the statement that ‘theos’ was ‘a descriptive title applied to a range of authorities.’”

    If I failed to address some substantive point in the article, it’s strange that you did not specify what that point was. I went back and checked, and your criticism here is false. The Biblical Unitarian article made four numbered points, which I will summarize here:

    1. Ancient Greek used theos with “a broader meaning” than just “God” in “the absolute sense.”
    2. It is too “incredible” to believe that Thomas was actually calling Jesus God in a Trinitarian sense, so Thomas must have meant “God” in a lesser sense.
    3. The disciples prior to Jesus’ death “had no knowledge of Trinitarian doctrine” and did not consider Jesus to be God in the absolute sense.
    4. When Thomas saw that Jesus had risen from the dead, he acknowledged that Jesus was “God” in the more limited sense of one who had “God’s authority.” He could not have meant that Jesus was God in the Trinitarian sense because “there is no reason to believe that the disciples would have even been aware of such a doctrine.”

    As you can see, we may easily and fairly reduce the Biblical Unitarian argument on John 20:28 to two claims. (1) We should understand its use of “God” as using the term in a non-absolute, broader sense. (2) Thomas and the disciples had no knowledge of the doctrine of the Trinity and so Thomas could not have meant to call Jesus “God” in the absolute sense. I admit that I did not offer a response to the second point, but it is an a priori, question-begging argument, not an exegetical argument. I don’t claim that Thomas at the moment he spoke had a fully developed or explicit understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. I don’t know anyone who claims that he did. I do claim that Thomas’s statement, understood in the context of the rest of the Gospel of John, is best understood in a Trinitarian theological framework.

    Regarding the point that ancient Jews used theos in other contexts than in reference to the true God, you wrote:

    “Were you genuinely unaware of this, Rob? It’s in all the standard literature.”

    Frankly, Dave, this was a rather obnoxious response from you. I said nothing to suggest that I was unaware of the usage of theos in reference to beings other than God. You seem to be attempting to mislead readers into thinking that I was “unaware” of something well known.

    It is quite true that in ancient Jewish literature generally theos could apply in various contexts to creatures. However, biblical examples of the singular theos (as distinguished from plural references to theoi which by definition could not be misunderstood as references to YHWH) applied in an approving way to a creature are rare and arguably nonexistent in the Bible.

    Even more to the point in John 20:28, there are no examples where “my God” applies approvingly in biblical literature (or even extrabiblical Jewish literature, to my knowledge) to anyone other than the true God YHWH, unless you count Jesus himself as the one exception. The expression “my God” (theos mou) occurs about 148 times in the Greek Bible (including the Apocrypha) and not one of those occurrences refers to a created being (whether human or angelic) except for a couple of verses where a prophet mocks the pagan who worships an idol as “my god” (Is. 44:17; Hab. 1:11). If we expand (as we should) our search to all uses of the singular noun theos with personal pronouns (my, your, his, her, our, their), we find about 1,135 occurrences, and not one occurrence refers approvingly to anyone or anything other than the LORD God. (There are about 14 occurrences of “my god,” “his god,” “your god,” etc., all in reference to patently false gods or idols.) If you want to look for such expressions using the plural “gods” (theoi) I believe you will find that all such expressions (“our gods,” “their gods,” etc.) refer to false gods or idols. (I did a quick check and there are perhaps 50 or so such occurrences.)

    This is rather overwhelming evidence in support of the point I made in my second-round statement here that when a faithful Jew called someone “my God” he was uniformly referring to the true God who was the Creator and Lord of all things. You cannot negate this evidence by referring to passages referring to angels or judges collectively as “gods” or to noncanonical works that call a figure such as Melchizedek “god.”

    Ironically, in denying that Thomas was identifying Jesus as the one true God, you are really negating a core confessional point of the Shema, which is that the people of Israel confessed that YHWH alone was their God: “The LORD our God [ho theos hēmōn], the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4). Thomas uses this language with the singular pronoun “my” instead of “our” in referring to Jesus as “my God.”

    You asked, “Did you provide evidence Thomas is using either ‘God’ or ‘Lord’ from Psalm 35:23, as claimed?” I did not claim that Thomas was consciously citing Psalm 35:23 specifically. My point was that Thomas used language that clearly echoes Psalm 35:23, whether deliberately or not. It doesn’t really matter, because we have over a thousand OT texts in which biblical writers and speakers referred to the LORD as “my God,” “our God,” “your God,” and so forth, and never approvingly applied such language to anyone or anything else. But the allusion to Psalm 35:23 is more likely than not. As I pointed out, the whole statement of Thomas directly parallels Psalm 35:23, as follows:

    ho theos mou kai ho kurios mou (Ps. 35:23 [34:23 LXX]
    ho kurios mou kai ho theos mou (John 20:28)

    In addition, there is something highly suggestive in Psalm 35:23 that appears to confirm the allusion. The Psalmist who is addressing “my God and my Lord” asks him to “be raised up” (exegerthēti, aorist passive imperative):

    “Be raised up, Lord, and attend to my case, my God and my Lord!”

    And of course, in the context of Thomas’s cry, he has just realized that Jesus Christ was indeed “raised up” from the dead! So perhaps the allusion was intentional. In any case, the uniform usage of “my (his, your, our, their) God” to refer exclusively to Israel’s God YHWH makes it explicit that Thomas’s words “my God” also identify Jesus as the LORD God.

    You wrote: “Thomas knew the Messianic use of ‘kyrios’ (Psalm 110) and the OT Jewish use of ‘theos’ (Psalm 82:6) so where is the evidence for his departure from customary usage?” I have just answered that question, rather exhaustively. Neither Psalm 82:6 nor any other biblical text (nor any other Jewish text, to my knowledge) ever refers to a creature as “my God.” And you have provided no exegetical evidence whatsoever that either Psalm 82:6 or 110:1 is the textual background for John 20:28. Certainly you have offered nothing even remotely comparable to the apparent allusion to Psalm 35:23!

    This is also my answer to James McGrath, whom you quote at length essentially making the same argument you made. McGrath says nothing whatsoever about the qualified expression “my God,” nor does he consider such possible specific allusions as Psalm 35:23. Thus, you have not even begun to offer anything like an effective rebuttal to John 20:28 as an example of a text that explicitly identifies Jesus Christ as truly God.

  21. DID JESUS DENY BEING GOD IN JOHN 10:31-39?

    Dave,

    You wrote:

    “Yes; Jesus’ defence from Psalm 82:6 (where mortal men are called ‘gods’) is one place proving it. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever unless Jesus is refuting the false accusation he claims to be God. On the contrary, his correction insists that he has only claimed to be the Son of God, and that if mortal men can be called ‘god’ (as in Psalm 82:6) he has no case to answer.
    Readers, why does Rob say nothing about Jesus’ use of Psalm 82:6? Standard commentaries identify the verse as critical support for Jesus’ argument.”

    Frankly, I did not address the specific issue of the use of Psalm 82:6 because I did not have enough space to do so. The issue is complicated by the fact that biblical scholars hold varying views as to the identity of the ones called “gods” in Psalm 82:6 (among other complicating factors). You assume that Psalm 82:6 referred to mortal humans, and this is a venerable and possible interpretation. However, many biblical scholars today think the “gods” there are celestial beings (angels), members of the heavenly “divine council” mentioned in verse 1. Even scholars who identify the “gods” as humans have differing explanations: Israelites at Mount Sinai, corrupt Israelite judges during the period of the monarchy, false prophets, or foreign kings.

    You seem to think that what Jesus said amounted to the following: “I didn’t say I was God, just the Son of God; and if they can be called gods in Psalm 82:6, then I can be called a god, too.” However, this is not what Jesus said, and it is at least disputable that this is what Jesus meant. In fact, you seem to be fusing two different interpretations of John 10:34-36. As James McGrath, whom you quote, points out, one of these interpretations understands Jesus to be reasoning a minori ad maius, from the lesser to the greater: “If others can be called ‘gods,’ how much more can I?” The other interpretation understands Jesus to be reasoning a maiori ad minus, from the greater to the lesser: “If others can be called ‘gods,’ then what is wrong with my lesser claim to be God’s son?” (McGrath, John’s Apologetic Christology [2001], 122). I don’t think you can have both interpretations at the same time.

    I have read numerous academic journal articles on Psalm 82 and John 10:34-36 and consulted numerous commentaries on these passages. In part because Jesus does not say whom he understood the “gods” to be, scholars have proposed several different interpretations of Jesus’ use of Psalm 82. In your comment, you don’t discuss any of these different views or even state what your own view is. Instead, you simply assert that the passage makes no sense unless Jesus is denying that he is God. In fact, although Jesus denies that he was blaspheming, he does not deny that he is God. He affirms that the Father consecrated him and sent him into the world (v. 36) that he does the works of his Father (v. 37), and that the Father is in him and he is in the Father (v. 38). I do not see a denial here that Jesus is God. In this context, Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 82:6 seems intended to show his detractors that their accusation of blasphemy is false, but what the connection is exactly depends on one’s understanding of Psalm 82 (or at least of what Jesus’ understanding of Psalm 82 was). Jesus may have been denying that he was “making himself out to be” God (that is, that he was a mere man arrogantly claiming to be something he was not), but I just don’t see anything here indicating that Jesus was denying that he was God.

    I am happy to discuss Psalm 82 and John 10 further, but first you would need to present a specific interpretation as the basis for your conclusion that Jesus’ use of Psalm 82 somehow constituted a denial that he was God. Since the issue here is whether this passage says what you claim it says (that Jesus was denying being God), the burden of proof here falls on you.

  22. JOHN 10:30 AND THE SHEMA

    Dave,

    You wrote:

    “You claim John 10:30 = the Shema? Do you say it means ‘one’ or ‘one but with room for two more if I need them’?”

    This isn’t a serious or fair-minded criticism of my position. I refuse to dignify it with any further response.

    I have a multi-post series on John 10:30 on this blog (Part One is missing because the site was attacked some time back, but the remaining posts should make sense without it). It addresses the issue you raised with your quotation from Tasker (in fact, I cited Tasker specifically) and also comments at length on the comparison of John 10:30 to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. I cited the series in my post here, so I don’t need to cite it again.

  23. JOHN 17:3—DOES THE NT ALWAYS CLEARLY DISTINGUISH JESUS FROM GOD?

    Dave,

    You wrote:

    “Faithful people encountering Jesus recognised that his power and authority were derived from God and that he acted as God’s agent, but was not God himself.”

    You then quoted statements in which people referred to Jesus as “a prophet” (Luke 24:19; John 4:19; 6:14; 9:17), “a man” (Luke 24:19; Acts 2:22-23), the Son of Man, the Christ, and the Son of God. You then concluded:

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

    Actually, no, they are not. The apostles frequently seem to blur this distinction, since they call him “God” at least a few times and “Lord” many times in contexts where it appears to represent the divine name YHWH. You have an explanation for these statements that satisfies you, but it simply is not true that the apostles are always careful to express a distinction between Jesus and God. On this point, you wrote:

    “You claim your interpretation is informed by verses calling Jesus God, but how can those verses overturn an exclusive statement of this sort [John 17:3]? Why not use this clear verse to inform your interpretation of the verses where you believe Jesus is referred to as God, given that Trinitarian scholars acknowledge those other verses are not clear?”

    There are several problems with this line of criticism. (1) I don’t agree that John 17:3 is “clear” in denying that Jesus is God. I agree that John 17:3 clearly teaches that the Father is the only true God and that Jesus is distinct from the Father. (2) I explained in my opening comments in this second round of the debate why I refuse to follow a methodology in which supposedly “clear” texts trump those that are supposedly not “clear.” (3) Your premise that Trinitarian scholars think Johannine texts that call Jesus God are unclear is incorrect. In particular, we think that John 20:28 is quite clear! Admittedly, John 1:18 is a controversial text, but this cannot be said about John 20:28.

    You wrote:

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

    This is a clever argument; do you mind if I respond to it, even though you addressed it to the readers instead of to me? After all, it appears that the “readers” are a distinct category from “Rob” in the above sentences (especially since you refer to “Rob” in the third person, “he”). Thus, it would seem that I am not supposed to ask myself your question, let alone offer an answer to it. Perhaps you get my point?

    The fact is that we have absolutely no reason to think that the apostles were God. No biblical text calls them God. They do nothing that is distinctively a work of God. No text describes them as having distinctive attributes of deity. No text refers to them as receiving distinctive honors of deity (and indeed Paul and Barnabas refused worship, Acts 14:11-15). But the NT calls Jesus God and Lord (even “my Lord and my God”), states that he existed before all creation, that he made and sustains the universe, that he sits on God’s throne, that he is the proper recipient of worship, divine honor, prayer, fear, and doxological praise, and on and on!

    It is possible with some ingenuity to construct a sentence that sounds syntactically parallel to John 17:3 and would seem to prove your point that the verse as written intentionally excludes Jesus Christ from the category of being “the only true God.” But if your clever sentence says something that is contrary to fact, which it does, then it really proves only your cleverness. Eternal life does not consist in knowing God and the apostles! The silliness of the sentence undermines your argument.

    You wrote:

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

    The above paragraph is one repetitive argument from silence.

    The bottom line for me is that what you are deriving from John 17:3 (that Jesus is not God except in an “agency” sense) is at best implicit, whereas other texts in John affirm explicitly that Christ is truly God (John 20:28) and identify him as the eternal Logos that has always been God (John 1:1, 14). Thus, I interpret the allegedly implicit in light of the explicit (which is not the same thing hermeneutically as the “clear” trumping the “unclear”).

  24. PLURAL AND SINGULAR PRONOUNS

    Dave,

    You wrote:

    “Rob has argued from Genesis 1:26 that the use of plural personal pronouns indicates God is a plurality of persons. Since he takes this line of reasoning, he must acknowledge the corollary: that the use of singular personal pronouns indicates God is only one person!”

    This is far too facile. The Trinitarian view is quite consistent: the singular pronouns reflect the fact that God is one God, one indivisible, eternal Being, while the plural pronouns restricted to the pre-Abrahamic period reflect the plurality of persons within that one God. Hermeneutically, my approach is to view the grammatical form of the pronouns in context, and not simply read off from either singular or plural pronouns a theological conclusion that their grammatical form alone probably will not bear.

    You wrote:

    “The ‘plurality of persons’ argument from Genesis 1:26 was used for the first time in a heretical apocryphal book called The Shepherd of Hermas, written in the mid 2nd Century AD, more than 100 years after Jesus’ ascension. Prior to that time, nobody had used Genesis 1:26 for this purpose – not even the apostles, who knew Christ intimately.”

    Guilt by association and argument from silence—the logical fallacies are piling up, Dave. I consulted the Shepherd of Hermas, and there is a possible allusion to Genesis 1:26, but that’s it. The view that the plural pronouns referred to the Father speaking to Christ was actually around before Hermas, since it was in the Epistle of Barnabas (written no later than about AD 135). Justin Martyr, writing about the same time as Hermas, also takes this view. So your attempted argument of guilt by association fails.

    I know of no NT text that cites Isaiah 9:6 as referring to Jesus Christ. Does that mean it’s a bad argument to interpret Isaiah 9:6 as referring to Christ?

    You wrote:

    “Can Rob explain why it took so long for people to start using Genesis 1:26 in this way, and why the earliest forms of that argument did not refer to a plurality of persons within the Godhead, but to the idea that God was speaking to another pre-existent being distinct from Himself?”

    First, it didn’t take “so long.” The early and mid-second century writings of the Epistle of Barnabas, Justin Martyr, etc., are among the earliest Christian writings outside the NT. And it is quite understandable that it would take time for Christians to reflect on the biblical revelation and work out a theological understanding that accurately expressed what Scripture taught on these things.

    In any case, it’s interesting that your comments on this issue fail to do the one thing needed, which is to defend a better interpretation of the plural pronouns in Genesis 1:26 and 3:22.

  25. THE PRINCIPLE OF AGENCY

    Dave,

    You wrote:

    “Rob, you appear unfamiliar with the principle of agency.”

    This isn’t the only time you have alleged without basis that I was ignorant of something. It’s beginning to look like a debating tactic of yours.

    You wrote:

    “Agents of God (such as Jesus) are typically granted various prerogatives and powers of God, including the authority to act on His behalf and bear His name.”

    I agree that God can deputize created beings as his agents to do some things. However, creating and sustaining the universe and ruling over everyone and everything for all eternity would not be among those things. This is a fatal flaw in your appeal to this principle of agency.

    You quoted James McGrath, who wrote:

    “As I explained earlier, there were certain basic rules or assumptions connected with agency in the ancient world. The most basic of all was that, in the words of later Jewish rabbis, ‘The one who is sent is like the one who sent him.’ Or in words that are probably better known to those of us familiar with the New Testament, ‘He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives not me but the one who sent me’ (Matt. 10:40)…. The agent was thus functionally equal or equivalent to the one who sent him, precisely because he was subordinate and obedient to, and submitted to the will of, him who sent him” (The Only True God, 62).

    McGrath misunderstands this concept of agency, and you fall prey to the same misunderstanding. The Jewish understanding of agency did not mean that creatures could perform all of the functions of God or that any creature might receive the worship, reverence, faith, and other honors due to God. Matthew 10:40 simply means that people who accepted the apostles and their message were accepting not just them but also accepting Jesus, and in turn those who accepted Jesus were accepting not just him but also the Father who sent him. The “principle” here is that accepting the representative is equivalent to accepting the one he represents. To press this principle into an interpretive golden key by which all statements that seem to attribute deity to Christ can be explained away as reflecting only his role as God’s agent is sheer nonsense. By this reasoning, the position that Jesus was only God’s agent becomes virtually non-falsifiable. The NT could call Jesus God a thousand times and it would “prove nothing.” What, was Thomas supposed to say, “My Lord and my God, and I am not simply addressing you as the functional agent of God”?

    You quote the Didache (11.4) as saying, “Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord.” Curious, though, that you did not quote what the Didache says next: “But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there’s a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet.” Apparently, then, if Jesus himself were to show up, the Didache is saying not to let him stay longer than two days?

    I think you know that the Didache did not mean that Christians were expected to worship the apostles, or to sing songs of praise to the apostles, or to ask the apostles to receive their spirit at the moment of their deaths. It did not mean that Christians were to credit the apostles with dying to atone for their sins. It did not mean that Christians referred to an apostle as “Jesus” or “Christ” or “the Son of Man.” It simply means that those who come to a Christian church or home should be welcomed as the Lord’s representative—but with some qualifications!

    The statement in the Didache, in context, nicely illustrates the limited focus of the “agency” principle.

    You wrote:

    “Scripture provides many cases in which representatives of God exercise His divine authority and prerogatives.”

    Let us look at some of the examples you gave.

    Elijah and Elisha had the “power of life and death” (1 Kings 17:17-22; 2 Kings 1:10; 4:32-35). You’ve got to be kidding, right? Elijah could not have been clearer that he did not in any sense have that power. Elijah begged the Lord to let the dying child live: “O LORD my God, I pray you, let this child’s life return to him” (1 Kings 17:21). Elisha also “prayed to the LORD” for a boy to come back to life (2 Kings 4:33). Your other examples are even weaker, so I will not bother addressing them.

    In Putting Jesus in His Place, I discuss the issue of Jesus’ miracles at some length and specifically whether they are no more evidence of his deity than would the miracles of such individuals as Elijah and Elisha be evidence that they were divine. Let me quote some excerpts and refer you and those interested to the whole discussion (198-201):

    New Testament scholar Werner Kahl [New Testament Miracle Stories in Their Religious-Historical Setting (1994)] helpfully distinguishes three kinds of miracle workers. A person who has inherent healing power he calls a “bearer of numinous power” (BNP). He uses the term “petitioner of numinous power” (PNP) for those who ask God to perform the miracle. Between these two extremes is the category of “mediator of numinous power” (MNP), which applies to persons who mediate the numinous power of a BNP in order to produce a miracle. Being a MNP or PNP clearly is not evidence of deity, whereas being a BNP at least could be evidence of deity. Eric Eve, in his published dissertation The Jewish Context of Jesus’ Miracles, observes that in the Old Testament, Yahweh is the only BNP; Moses is an example of a MNP; and Elijah is an example of a PNP…. According to Eve, the Gospel portrayals of Jesus break with Jewish tradition by characterizing Jesus as a “bearer of numinous power” (BNP) and his miracles as pointing to him as Yahweh. Although some of the miracle reports resemble accounts of prophetic miracles (notably those of Elisha), the dominant theme in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ miracles with regard to his identity is that Jesus is unlike any other human being.—Putting Jesus in His Place, 198, 199.

    Isaiah, Daniel, Zechariah, and Malachi had “divine foreknowledge”. I suppose everyone who spoke prophecies in the name of God had “divine foreknowledge” in the same sense that Jesus has it, right? If Isaiah presents an “oracle” (Is. 15:1), he is expressly not claiming any divine knowledge but is simply reporting what God made known to him. If Daniel reports a vision that God gave him, Daniel’s knowledge goes no further than the vision itself—so that, indeed, Daniel himself can express puzzlement about what his visions meant (Dan. 7:15-16). The very passages that you cite from the prophets show that they did not in any way possess divine knowledge! The OT prophetic books use the phrase “Thus says the LORD” some 400 times and “the word of the LORD came to [the prophet]” about 100 times. Jesus never speaks this way. He never says, “Thus says the Lord” or “Hear the word of my Father” or anything like that. Instead, Jesus says “I say to you” something like 170 times in the Gospels—customarily as an emphatic way of prefacing a statement he is about to make as the last word on the subject. About 75 times among those 170 statements, he uses the more elaborate introductory formula “Amen I say to you,” a use of “Amen” (to introduce one’s statement) essentially unparalleled in ancient literature (see further Putting Jesus in His Place, 213-15).

    Jesus’ disciples granted “forgiveness of sins” (John 20:23). Let’s look first at what Jesus said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:22b-23). The disciples’ reception of the Spirit is somehow connected with this matter of forgiving sins. In the context of what Jesus in the Gospel of John teaches about the Holy Spirit, the point seems to be that the disciples are now empowered to begin their ministry of testifying to Jesus Christ (John 15:26-27). This matter of “forgiveness” and “retention” of sins is not a prerogative that Jesus is transferring to individuals, as if an individual believer like me could “retain” your sins and so prevent you from being forgiven. Thankfully, no individual Christian has this authority! Jesus is speaking to the disciples corporately as the representative body of witnesses who will take the message of forgiveness of sins in his name to the world. If that corporate body of disciples, the church, extends that forgiveness to other groups of people, those people will receive forgiveness; if the church withholds the forgiveness that is found in the gospel from a group of people, that group will not receive forgiveness. For example, if the church had refused to share the gospel with Gentiles, then Gentiles would have been kept from forgiveness. That this is the correct understanding of what Jesus says in John 20:23 can be confirmed simply by reading the book of Acts and the rest of the NT. No one in Acts ever says to someone else, “Your sins are forgiven” or “I retain your sins” (or anything of the sort). Instead, they preach the gospel of forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ (Acts 2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18).

    Moses “bearing God’s name” (Exodus 5:23). Sounds impressive, until you look up the verse: “Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” This is not someone respectfully welcoming Moses as God; this is Moses speaking rather disrespectfully to God! No one is here calling Moses “God” or “YHWH” (and certainly Moses is not calling himself anything of the sort!). This is Moses saying that he spoke in Yahweh’s name, that is, he spoke on the authority of Yahweh, at Yahweh’s behest. That’s it. Likewise, Daniel 9:6 refers to the prophets who spoke in God’s name. These examples are absolutely and totally irrelevant.

    Angels “bearing God’s name” (Ex. 3:2-4, cf. Acts 7:35; Ex. 23:20-21; Judg. 6:12-14). This is your best example—really your only plausible example—but there is a problem: Christians have traditionally believed that the “angel of the LORD” in such passages as Exodus 3 and Judges 6 was the preincarnate Christ. I know you will not agree with this view, but this view does have some basis in the NT (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:4, 9). One of the difficulties here is that the Hebrew mal’ak and the Greek angelos were functional terms meaning “messenger,” not ontological terms meaning “spirit creature.” Thus, one cannot assume that the “mal’ak of Yahweh” was ontologically what we call an “angel,” any more than we can assume that since the OT sometimes calls him a “man” (e.g., Gen. 32:24; Judg. 13:6, 8, 10-11) that he must have been ontologically human.

    You wrote:

    “Examples could be multiplied. I labour this as a point sadly obscured by centuries of poor exegesis.”

    I am afraid most of your examples are not only less than convincing, but are themselves examples “of poor exegesis” (if there is any “exegesis” involved at all).

  26. In his comment #24, Rob does a great job of explaining why in John 1:10 cannot mean what Dave suggests. It is truly devastating to Dave’s argument, imho. Rob’s comment #25 addressing the question of whether the Logos ceases to be the Logos is also spot on.

    I am neither a logician nor a rhetorician. However, as one of the simple Readers Dave seems so keen to appeal to, I can say with confidence that neither the logic nor the rhetorical strategy of Dave’s overall argument is very persuasive, even apart from Rob’s responses. Dave has some really great points, but they just don’t seem to gel together into the argument he’s trying to advance. On other things, he’s just mistaken. Rob’s responses really make this clear.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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