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The Great Trinity Debate, Part 5: Bowman on the Trinity

In the preceding three rounds of this debate, I have argued that the person of Jesus Christ existed as God prior to the creation of the world and that the Holy Spirit is also a divine person. If my argument up to this point has been successful, I have thoroughly refuted the Biblical Unitarian position and established two key elements of the doctrine of the Trinity. Add to these two points the premises that there is only one God who existed before creation and that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Father is not the Holy Spirit, and the only theological position in the marketplace of ideas that is left is the doctrine of the Trinity. Since these are all premises that Biblical Unitarianism accepts, I have not defended them here.

A possible objection to my argument so far is that it does not show that the “threefoldness” of God that the doctrine of the Trinity affirms has any clear support in the Bible. I will therefore now address this aspect of the doctrine directly.

I think everyone is aware of the fact that the NT in many places exhibits a “triadic” pattern in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are coordinated in some fashion. The NT writers sometimes use these three specific designations, but they also use other terms, such as God, Christ, and Spirit, or God, Lord, and Spirit, or some variation of one of these triads. My online outline study of the Trinity lists well over fifty clear examples of such triads, and that is a conservative list. I won’t discuss or even list all such texts here, but will instead draw attention to several notable examples and comment on their relevance to the doctrine of the Trinity in some depth.

Matthew 28:19

“Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into [eis] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

It is not without good reason that orthodox Christians historically have usually regarded this statement as at least implicitly trinitarian. It specifies the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as all objects of confession in the initiatory rite of the Christian religion. No one claims that this verse presents a formal, systematic theological definition or complete exposition of the doctrine of the Trinity, but it does give us a particularly clear and straightforward example of a triadic statement in which the three persons are equally the object of Christian faith.

Don’t take my word for it. Consider the many anti-Trinitarians over the years who have grasped at the straw that the fourth-century writer Eusebius supposedly testified to an original form of the text in which Jesus said to baptize disciples “in my name” instead of what we find in all of the Greek manuscripts. Many continue to repeat this claim today, though it is hard to find any contemporary scholars who will support it. The Biblical Unitarian website that Dave recommended prior to our debate endorses this theory: “we believe that the earliest manuscripts read ‘in my name,’ and that the phrase was enlarged to reflect the orthodox position as Trinitarian influence spread” (emphasis added). In a comment in the first round, Dave implicitly disagreed with this claim; I cite it to show how popular it still is among anti-Trinitarians.

Note that these Biblical Unitarians acknowledge that “the phrase” does seem to “reflect the orthodox position”; indeed, they claim that it was written to promote a Trinitarian view. Yet in the very next breath they argue hard that even if the text is authentic it “does not prove the Trinity”! They cannot reasonably have it both ways.

The usual strategy of Biblical Unitarians to defuse Matthew 28:19 is the argument from silence. Matthew 28:19, they point out, does not say that the three are “one God.” The site just quoted makes this point, as does Anthony Buzzard (Doctrine of the Trinity, 333). The Biblical Unitarian site also insists that the text does not say explicitly that the Holy Spirit is a person. No text says explicitly that the Holy Spirit is not a person, either, but this doesn’t stop Biblical Unitarians from drawing that conclusion.

If Biblical Unitarianism is true, the Father is God himself, while the Holy Spirit is an aspect of God, specifically his power. Thus, two of the three names in Matthew 28:19 denote either God himself or an aspect of God, according to Biblical Unitarianism. The middle name, however, supposedly refers to a mere human being (though the greatest of them all) whom God exalted to a divine status. This would seem to be a problematic way of reading the text. If we simply paraphrase Matthew 28:19 to express explicitly how the Trinitarian and Biblical Unitarian theologies understand its meaning, the difficulty facing the Biblical Unitarian will become clear:

Trinitarian: “Baptize disciples in the name of God the Father, the name of God the Son, and the name of God the Holy Spirit.”
Biblical Unitarian: “Baptize disciples in the name of God, the name of the exalted virgin-born man Jesus, and the name of the power of God.”

Criticizing the Trinitarian interpretation based on arguments from silence ignores the fact that the Biblical Unitarian interpretation cannot simply repeat the words of the text without explanatory comment. Both views offer an interpretation of the text. The question is which of those interpretations best fits the text.

Jesus says explicitly here to baptize disciples “into the name of…the Holy Spirit,” so that “Holy Spirit” is a name, like “Father” and “Son.” Anti-Trinitarians commonly assert that the Bible never gives the Holy Spirit a name and therefore he is not a person (at best another argument from silence), but Matthew 28:19 says explicitly that “Holy Spirit” is a “name.” This would seem to be very good evidence that the Holy Spirit is a person after all.

Matthew 28:19, then, refers to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three names. The coordination of these names in this context of the initiatory rite of baptism strongly supports the conclusion that all three are names of divine persons. Keep in mind that Biblical Unitarians agree that the Father is a divine person (indeed, God himself), that the Son is a divine person (though “God” only in a secondary sense), and that the Holy Spirit is at the least an aspect of the divine being. Also recall the evidence I presented in the previous round that in biblical usage the term “spirit” (pneuma) commonly designates an incorporeal, invisible person, being, or entity. This means that the presumptive conclusion with regard to Matthew 28:19 must be that the Holy Spirit is also a divine person.

We agree that the Father is God. If the Holy Spirit is a divine person, obviously he must also be God, because (we agree) the Holy Spirit is at the very least an aspect of God’s being, not some creature or other deity. But if in Matthew 28:19 the Father is God and the Holy Spirit is God, then it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the Son is also God. Nor is this conclusion out of keeping with the context, which reveals the Son as one who has universal authority and is capable of being present with all disciples in all nations in all generations until the end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20). Thus, Matthew 28:19 presents powerful evidence in support of the doctrine of the Trinity.

John 14:26

“But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

Here the Father, in the Son’s name, sends the Holy Spirit. It is remarkable that the Father does this in the Son’s name, since the Father obviously is not a mere agent acting on the Son’s behalf. Can one imagine Moses saying that the Father would send the Holy Spirit (or anyone or anything else) in his (Moses’) name? Can one imagine Elijah, or Michael the archangel, making such a statement? Recall also the evidence presented in the previous round that the Paraclete here is clearly a divine person, not an impersonal power or force. We have, then, three divine persons coordinated in a nutshell of the NT narrative: The Son came here, returned to heaven, and then the Holy Spirit came from the Father in the Son’s name.

Acts 2:33

“Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he [Jesus] has poured forth this which you both see and hear.”

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all in evidence here. Jesus (v. 32) has been exalted to the right hand of God; that is, he now sits on God’s throne at the Father’s right hand, exercising divine sovereign rule over the cosmos. As evidence that Jesus the Son performs the functions consistent with him occupying this position, Peter says that Jesus “has poured forth this which you both see and hear.” Earlier in the same speech, Peter has quoted Joel 2:28, where the LORD states that he will pour forth from his Spirit (Acts 2:18). Yet here Peter says that the Lord Jesus is the one who does this “pouring forth.”

The statement in 2:33 is not the only indication in Acts 2 that Peter identifies Jesus as the LORD of the Book of Joel. After his speech, Peter tells the people to be baptized “upon the name [epi tō onomati] of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (2:38). In context this statement means that they are to call “upon the name of Jesus Christ” for salvation when they are baptized, also echoing the words of Joel 2:32, “everyone who calls upon the name [epikalesētai tō onomati] of the Lord shall be saved” (quoted in Acts 2:21). We know from the rest of the Book of Acts that this is how the apostles and other early disciples applied Joel 2:32 (see Acts 7:59-60; 9:14; 22:16), and Paul makes this explicit (Rom. 10:9-13; see also 1 Cor. 1:2, 8, and my discussion of these texts in the third round).

Dave and other anti-Trinitarians think that Acts 2:34-36 shows that Jesus’ designation “Lord” in these contexts does not identify him as the LORD YHWH: “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Biblical Unitarians interpret Psalm 110:1 to mean that the LORD YHWH exalted a mere man to be the Messianic lord, and so they understand Acts 2:36 to mean that Jesus’ designation as “lord” refers to a status that he acquired for the first time in his exaltation.

Taken out of context and read with modern eyes, “God has made him both Lord and Christ” may very well sound as if it means that before he was “exalted” Jesus did not have those titles. Luke, however, explicitly disagrees. In his Gospel, Luke reports the angel announcing Jesus’ birth with these words: “Today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Luke tells us several additional times that Jesus, prior to his death, was already both the “the Christ” (Luke 2:26; 4:41; 9:20; 24:26, 46) and “the Lord” (Luke 3:4; 6:5, 46; 7:13, 19; 10:1, 40-41; 11:39; 12:42; 13:15; 17:5-6; 18:6; 19:8; 22:61). Therefore, Luke clearly does not understand Peter to mean that Jesus receives these titles for the first time at his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of the Father. Evidently, by “God made him both Lord and Christ” Luke understands Peter to mean that in his resurrection and exaltation, Jesus was vindicated or publicly presented or officially declared to the world as both Lord and Christ (cf. Rom. 1:4).

When we take Acts 2:36 against this background and in the context of the application to Jesus of the reference in Joel 2:28-32 to the LORD pouring forth from his Spirit on those who call on his name for salvation, the best conclusion is that Acts 2 is affirming that Jesus is indeed the LORD God.

Romans 8:9-11

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

Paul here refers to the Holy Spirit as (a) the Spirit, (b) the Spirit of God, (c) the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead (=the Spirit of the Father), and (d) the Spirit of Christ. The fact that the Spirit can be described in the same context as both “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ” proves that “Spirit of God” does not mean the energy or power that belongs to and emanates from God’s being and that Christ supposedly “uses” as God gives it to him. Rather, the Holy Spirit can be called both the Spirit of God (the Father) and the Spirit of Christ (the Son) because he is the Spirit whose role it is in redemption to unite us to the Father and the Son. In Paul’s theology, one can say that the Spirit of the Father dwells in us, that Christ (or the Spirit of Christ) dwells in us, and that the Spirit (of God) dwells in us. All three are true statements. The Father and the Son both dwell in us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and this is a real indwelling by the Father and the Son because the three persons are one indivisible divine being—one God.

Romans 8:26-27, 33-34

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God…. Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”

Here Paul speaks of two divine persons who intercede for us: the Spirit, and Christ Jesus. That these are two distinct yet complementary acts or types of intercession is clear from how Paul describes each. The Spirit intercedes for us from within us, “with groaning too deep for words.” The Son, Christ Jesus, intercedes for us from “the right hand of God.”

1 Corinthians 12:4-6

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.
And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.
There are varieties of activities, but the same God who works all things in all.”

The deliberate parallelism of these three lines practically speaks for itself. If a Jew unfamiliar with Christianity read these lines alone, he would certainly understand “the same Spirit,” “the same Lord,” and “the same God” to be three synonymous expressions for the same Creator. We know from the immediate context that the one whom Paul identifies here as “the same Lord” is Jesus (v. 3). Paul clearly attributes personhood to the Spirit, whose work of gifting believers Paul details in verses 7-10, concluding in verse 11, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things [panta tauta energei], distributing to each one individually just as he wills.” Paul here in verse 11 uses the same language for the Spirit’s working that he used in verse 6 for God’s working (“who works all things in all,” ho energōn ta panta en pasin). Thus, Paul can speak interchangeably about what the Spirit, the Lord, and God do in relation to spiritual gifts, while still distinguishing the three from one another. We have here at the very least an implicit Trinitarianism.

2 Corinthians 13:14

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”

Here the three names “the Lord Jesus Christ,” “God,” and “the Holy Spirit” appear in coordinated fashion, each in the genitive following a noun describing a spiritual blessing. The proper exegetical presumption is that all three genitives have the same grammatical function and nuance. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” can really only mean something like the grace that comes from the Lord Jesus Christ” or “the grace that the Lord Jesus Christ bestows” (what grammarians often call a subjective genitive). “The love of God” here as elsewhere in Paul means, not people’s love for God (that would be an objective genitive), but rather the love that God shows toward his people (e.g., Rom. 5:5; 8:39). Thus the first two genitives are both subjective genitives. This leads me to conclude that “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” also is a subjective genitive, meaning the spiritual blessing of fellowship that comes from the Holy Spirit or that the Holy Spirit bestows. This statement, which functions as a benediction ending the epistle, is in effect a prayer that the Lord Jesus Christ would continue to be gracious to the Corinthians, that God would continue to show his love for them, and that the Holy Spirit would continue to bless them with fellowship. Here again is a statement that arguably expresses an implicit Trinitarianism.

Galatians 4:4-6

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”

The most natural way of understanding this passage is that God’s Son existed before becoming a human being. Four elements converge to express this idea: (1) the statement that “God sent forth his Son”; (2) the description of this Son as “born of a woman”; (3) the contrast between Jesus as God’s (apparently natural) “Son” and believers as those who have received “adoption as sons”; and (4) the parallel statement that “God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son.”

Attempts to circumvent this evidence inevitably fail to consider how these elements function cumulatively. God sent his Son from heaven to redeem his people, and then he sent the Spirit of his Son from heaven to dwell within them (see further Putting Jesus in His Place, 89 and the notes there). The parallel between the sending forth of the Son and the sending forth of the Spirit, in turn, supports the conclusion that the Spirit is a person. Thus, this short passage in Galatians treats the Father, Son, and Spirit as three distinct preexistent persons, each of whom is integrally involved in our “adoption as sons.”

Ephesians 2:18-22

“…for through him [Christ] we both [Jews and Gentiles] have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

Christ is the central figure in this passage, as he is throughout the epistle (Paul mentions him explicitly in 58 of the 155 verses of Ephesians, as compared to 38 verses for God the Father and 14 for the Spirit), but he is closely flanked by both the Father and the Spirit. In verse 18 Paul states that through Christ both Jews and Gentiles have “access in one Spirit to the Father.” The language distinguishes the three from one another and attributes distinct but essential roles to each. Paul names the three again in close association in verse 22: “a holy temple in the Lord…a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” Paul describes the dwelling place (the temple) as being both “in the Lord” and “in the Spirit.” The phrase “in the Lord” is a favorite of Paul, who consistently uses it in reference to the Lord Jesus (about 51 times; it occurs only once elsewhere in the NT, Rev. 14:13). Yet this phrase in the Greek OT refers uniformly to YHWH (about 24 times).

Ephesians 4:4-6

“One body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”

If we had only this passage we might be forgiven for not seeing a triadic pattern in this passage, since the text has seven occurrences of the word “one.” However, three exegetical considerations prove that this text does exhibit a triadic pattern within the sevenfold statement of Christian unity. (1) This passage repeats, in reverse order, the triad from an earlier Pauline passage, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (Spirit, Lord, God), with the word “one” modifying each name instead of the word “same.” (2) Both passages in context introduce the subject of spiritual gifts (cf. 1 Cor. 12-14 with Eph. 4:1-16, especially 4:7-11). This thematic connection makes the recurrence of the three names Spirit, Lord, and God all the more likely to be significant. (3) The structure of the sevenfold statement actually places the three names at specific junctures in that statement. Thus, the affirmations of “one Spirit” and “one Lord” are interrupted by a whole clause “just as also you were called in one hope of your calling” (instead of simply “one hope”), and “one God and Father of all” comes at the climax with the threefold flourish “who is over all and through all and in all.” This analysis supports the conclusion that “one Spirit,” “one Lord,” and “one God and Father of all” are references to deity, as distinguished from the other four terms in the sevenfold statement.

Ephesians 5:18-21

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to the God and Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”

As I explained in the previous round, NT language about being “filled with the Spirit” does not imply that the Spirit is not a divine person. Paul in this same epistle speaks of both Christ (Eph. 1:23; 4:10) and God (Eph. 3:19) “filling” the church and its members. Thus, the whole epistle in a sense presents a kind of “triadic” or implicitly “trinitarian” view of divine filling, since Father, Christ, and Spirit all fill God’s people.

Paul says three things in this short passage that exalt Jesus above all creatures. The first is that believers are to sing spiritual songs “to the Lord.” For Jews steeped in the faith of the OT, to “sing to the Lord” meant to sing to Yahweh, the LORD (Ex. 15:21; Judg. 5:3; 1 Chron. 16:23; Ps. 7:17; 9:11; 92:1; 95:1; 96:2; 104:33; Is. 42:10). Yet in context, Paul is speaking of singing to the Lord Jesus. We know this because of the typical Pauline triad “Spirit-Lord-God” that we have already seen more than once, and also because Paul in the same breath refers to him as “our Lord Jesus Christ.” Thus, Paul directs Christians to sing hymns to Jesus as if he were Jehovah.

Second, Paul tells the Ephesians to thank God the Father “in the name [en onomati] of our Lord Jesus Christ.” While Paul distinguishes the Father and Christ here, he does not distinguish them as sharply as one might suppose. “The name” of the Lord Jesus has a place unimaginable in Judaism for any man. The Jews would never dream of giving God thanks in the name of Moses or even in Michael’s name. Furthermore, Paul’s language here actually echoes the words of the Psalmist who spoke about thanking God in his name: “In God we will make our boast the whole day, and in your name [en tō onomati sou] give thanks forever” (Ps. 44:8).

Third, Paul instructs the Ephesian believers to behave “in the fear of Christ.” The KJV and NKJV (which generally follows the textual tradition of the KJV) say “in the fear of God” here, but modern translations follow the better textual evidence that supports “in the fear of Christ” (ESV, HCSB, NAB, NASB, NET, NIV, NJB, NRSV, etc.). In the parallel passage in Colossians (the two epistles closely parallel one another), Paul directs servants to obey their masters, “fearing the Lord…. You serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:22, 24). Paul, then, teaches Christians to “fear the Lord,” that is, to fear Christ (see also 2 Cor. 5:10-11; Eph. 6:7-8). Of course, to “fear the Lord” in a Jewish context means to fear the LORD Jehovah (Deut. 6:13; 10:20; Prov. 1:7; 2:5; 9:10; etc.; Is. 8:12-13).

The epistle of Paul to the Ephesians presents one of the most concentrated series of triadic passages that in various ways reflect what must be called at the very least an implicit or incipient trinitarianism. Paul not only repeatedly refers to God, the Lord, and the Spirit in statements that coordinate them in complementary roles in cosmic history and the Christian life of the believer, but he articulates a Christocentric faith in which Jesus Christ is identified as the divine Lord and is the object of confession, the singing of hymns, and the holy fear of the LORD.

1 Peter 1:2

“…elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.”

Anti-Trinitarians often raise an objection to the doctrine of the Trinity on the basis that the salutations of the epistles do not mention the Holy Spirit. The objection rests on a fallacious argument from silence, but it also misses this salutation, which does mention the Holy Spirit. As with the benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14, this salutation features names of the three, each in the genitive case associated with specific divine blessings. The exiled believers in the diaspora, Peter says, are “elect” or chosen in relation to the blessings that come from God the Father, the Spirit, and Jesus Christ. The “foreknowledge of God the Father” refers to the divine blessing of God foreknowing his chosen ones. The “sanctification of the Spirit” refers to the divine blessing of the Spirit sanctifying those chosen ones. The “obedience and sprinkling of the blood” refers to the divine blessing of Jesus Christ bringing us into a new covenant relationship with God in which we are redeemed and freed to live as his obedient children (1 Peter 1:14-19). Here again, then, a NT author describes the Father, the Spirit, and Christ as each acting, performing divine functions of salvation that are coordinated and complementary to each other.

Conclusion

The NT repeatedly speaks of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (sometimes with these specific designations, sometimes with others) in triadic statements that attribute divine functions to each of the three. There is nothing arbitrary about the Trinitarian claim of a threefoldness in Scripture’s revelation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as if, for example, one might just as easily speak of a quaternary of Father, Son, Michael, and Gabriel, or of God, Jesus, Peter, and Paul, or perhaps a fivefold revelation of the Father, Adam, Christ, Power, and Truth. No, this threefoldness of Father—Son—Holy Spirit or God—Lord—Spirit is found throughout the NT in the Synoptics, John, Acts, the Pauline epistles, the Petrine epistles, and elsewhere that space prevents me from documenting with any detail.

Dave and I agree that the Father is God. We agree that the Holy Spirit is at least an aspect of God (Dave thinks the Holy Spirit is God’s power, I think the Holy Spirit is God). Thus, we agree that two of the three referents in this common NT triad refer to God or an aspect of God. There is some force to the argument, then, that the third referent in this triad is also God. I have argued in rounds two and three of this debate that the Son is in fact God and in round four that the Holy Spirit is a divine person. I have further shown in this round that the triadic passages in the NT often provide additional confirmation of the essential deity of the Son or of the personhood of the Holy Spirit or both. These passages therefore provide substantial support, within the larger context of the biblical teaching already examined, for the doctrine of the Trinity.

In the final round of this debate next week, Dave and I will give our closing statements and invite your questions and comments. In my closing statement, I will draw the threads of the arguments together and offer a comparison of the Biblical Unitarian and Trinitarian theological positions.

142 Responses to “The Great Trinity Debate, Part 5: Bowman on the Trinity”

  1. Richard Worden Wilson May 16, 2010 at 1:56 am

    Hi Rob,
    You start off by saying:

    In the preceding three rounds of this debate, I have argued that the person of Jesus Christ existed as God prior to the creation of the world and that the Holy Spirit is also a divine person. If my argument up to this point has been successful, I have … established two key elements of the doctrine of the Trinity.

    Isn’t the doctrine of the Trinity based not merely on the idea that “Christ existed as God prior to the creation of the world,” but rather from all eternity, which was argued in the trinitarian debates by claiming that “there was not a time in which he was not.” It seems to me that it would be necessary to demonstrate clearly that the Bible states that Christ existed as (in essence) God prior to any creation and not just before the creation of the world, eliminating the possibility that he was created at the beginning of creation as God (god?) by God. I’m sure you have referred to the arguments about The Son being of the same essence as the Father earlier, but not mentioning it here as if it weren’t necessary to successfully argue for the doctrine seems like avoiding something.The doctrine of the Trinity as developed following Nicea says some things about The Son that you are not including here. Is there a reason you are avoiding the historical distinctives of the doctrine?

    Also, though I can imagine that you are by now thinking I am being perhaps too fussy about terminology on this also (but isn’t that the point of all these arguments about words?), when you hope to have argued successfully “that the Holy Spirit is also a divine person,” this is similarly short of being what the doctrine as creedally stated says about the Holy Spirit. That is, as I recall, that the Holy Spirit is co-equal and equally worshiped along with the Father and the Son. This is, in my mind, no small matter given that there is no depiction of the Holy Spirit being worshiped in the scriptures (that the Holy Spirit is not prayed…

  2. In discussing Matther 28.19 you argue that the Holy Spirit has been given a name… but being ‘baptised in the name of the Holy Spirit” does not mean that the latter is a person!
    We talk about “In the name of the Law” to signify the importance of the Law – but it still not a person!

    If God is a Trinity your analysis of 2 Corinthians 13:14 is puzzling
    – are the words Lord Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit not made ‘redundant’ – if the verse is given a TRinitarian interpretation.?

    You comment on Acts 2,18 and say” yet Peter says that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one who does the pouring forth” – linking this verse to Joel 2:28
    One just has to read a little further to verse 33 to get the truth
    we read-“He received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father-and poured it forth as we shall see later…”
    So, Christ appears yet again as a sort of ‘agent’ of God.

    Friends who experience ‘being in the Spirit” tell me that they feel ‘in tune with the Father” and the only analogy they can give one, is of a ‘radio-wave’ which fills the Creation and blesses those who are ‘in tune’ with it.

    Trinitarians seem to be performing tremendous mental ‘gymnastics’ to TRY to explain this thing which they say is ‘strongly implied”

    Why not accept the TRUTH – which is simple.?
    There is only ONE SUPREME GOD and Christ is his SON the MESSIAH

    Best Wishes

  3. Are the designations “Father” and “Son” *names*?

    And what about “holy spirit”? Example:

    “In the name of good reason I beg you to stop using such unsound arguments.”
    Does this explicitly say that “good reason” is a name and very good evidence that it is a person?

    “In the name of the government…”
    Does this explicitly say that the “government” is a name and very good evidence that it is a person?

    The expression “in the name of” simply means “in recognition of.”

  4. Mr. Bowman, with all due respect, do YOU even have confidence in your semantic game?

  5. Thanks MrBowman (and of course MrBurke) for the debate :)

  6. Richard Wilson’s comment is very thought-provoking. Assuming Christ existed eternally before the first creation, not being made by God, it seems very unnatural that
    A) he should be the ‘son’ of God in any way, shape or form, as they are co-existent and both of the same age (ageless)
    B) he should not be exactly equal with God in power or status- either in his bodily manifestation or his place ‘slightly beneath God’ in the trinitarian hierarchy

  7. In the name of Logic, Common sense and Reason does any of the above ring true? Rob the second sentence of your introduction is the most shaky premise and the biggest “if” of the debate thus far. As to the reasoning behind the triad of ‘the name” somehow proving your Christology – well…..no comment. What of Matt 10v40-41….does this triad of the name of.. a prophet, a righteous man and a disciple make them the same identity. I think not!

  8. As Rob’s and Dave’s rebuttals have only got as far as week 3 so far, would it not make sense to postpone week 6 until they have had a chance to catch up. It would be easier to follow.

  9. I have also noticed that Scot McKnight has been running some blog articles related to the Trinity, where he is posting thoughts from Ron Highfield’s book, Great Is the Lord: Theology for the Praise of God. You can see all 6 posts here, and there is more to come.

  10. I lose all hope for humanity when I read what I see in Ron Highfields latest book.!!!!
    Do words and logic have no meaning?
    Is ‘reason’ a meaningless concept?
    Do human beings HAVE TO go on millenium after millenium ‘digging a deeper hole’ to avoid facing up to the truth- and telling their brethern that they are ‘heretics’ if they can’t understand THEIR confusion.!
    The writer asks ” Does something have to be implcit for it be accepted?
    The answer is probably ‘yes’ if salvation depends on belief in it, and non-belief is judged to be heresy.
    For years I accepted the standard Trinitarian ‘line’ that the Apostles ‘knew’ that Jesus was God ‘by living with Him.’
    His ‘divinity’ in terms of mission, status etc yes!, but his ‘deity’ most certainly not.!
    What brought me to my senses was the thought that-if Jesus was God this would have been the most earth-shattering event in history and the gospels would not have been written as they were.
    I don’t need to go into it- so many verses would have become ‘redundant’ in an instant. and our theology changed forever.
    As it is, my pastor friends tell me that the Doctrine of the Trinity is essential to make full sense of the Doctrine the Atonement etc. The wonderful ‘interlicking doctrines’ they have built over the years would become vulnerable – and horror of horrors, what would they have to preach about ? (THEIR words)
    Young people tell me that they can’t accept Christianity because of doctrines which are incomprehensible and the ‘venom’ with which they are preached.!! What a shame! Why not tell them that there is ONE SUPREME GOD and his Son Jesus Christ the Messiah!
    Best Wishes
    jabrien@africaonline.co.zw

  11. John Brien –

    Does Highfield take part in what you say here?

    Do human beings HAVE TO go on millenium after millenium ‘digging a deeper hole’ to avoid facing up to the truth- and telling their brethern that they are ‘heretics’ if they can’t understand THEIR confusion.!

    I think Highfield was willing to recognise the difficulties that Trinitarian belief presents, as most studied Trinitarians would also be willing to do today.

  12. HiScott
    Absolutely not!
    I’m afraid that my intolerance was triggered off by the sight if the “i” word (implied)
    John

  13. Now that Dave and Rob have ceased interacting with one another’s presentations in the comments section, this has ceased to be a debate and has become a presentation of essays. If I wanted to read essays on Trinitarianism, and essays on Christadelphianism, I could do so anywhere. The reason I have been following this debate is because I want to see how each side responds to the other’s arguments.

    I understand that this process is very time consuming, but I do hope both of you will begin to do some serious interaction with each other’s essays as you did at the beginning of this debate. Without it, I fear many people will walk away from this debate quite confused about what to believe because both sides present persuasive essays.

  14. Jason, go back and reread all of the previous sections since Bowman has posted TONS of rebuttals to Burke’s claims. It is evidence in light of Bowman’s replies that Burke is now officially history and should have never accepted to face Bowman since Bowman is just too much for Burke. Bowman has also done a masterful job of exposing Burke’s deliberate mishandling of both the Bible and the scholarly sources which Burke has been (mis)quoting. When you read Bowman’s replies you will see what I mean.

  15. Jason: To echo Sam, you should go back to the comments of previous rounds. Bowman recently posted 9 comments in response to Burke starting here on round 3; another 7 comments starting here on round 4; and yet another 4 comments starting here on round 5. These have all been direct responses to Dave’s posts and comments and they’ve been devastating. Regardless of whether or not you agree with Bowman on the Trinity I think you’ll come away thinking that he’s the superior debater and exegete.

  16. There has certainly been a lot written here, and other blogs following this debate, as to how we should ‘score it”. As if how WE ‘score it ” means anything to the Lord, who is sovereign. Scores may mean a lot in ball games etc:, but just what do they really mean in relation to what the Bible says about God? Is is one for us or zero for God? Our eternal salvation may not depend upon the outcome of this debate, but what we do have to consider is how much importance we have put upon our own often fallible interpretation. Me, I’d much rather rather trust God’s. He can save me, David Burke’s take on Jesus can’t. Pretty simple for me, for me at least.

  17. Jason, for an informed commentary on the debate by an actual professional Trinitarian scholar who is both published and recognized in the relvant peer reviewed literature, see Dr Dale Tuggy’s site:

    * Opening comments: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1694

    * Burke 1: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1704
    * Bowman 1: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1715
    * Burke 2: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1723
    * Bowman 2: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1733
    * Bowman 3: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1773
    * Burke 3: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1786
    * Bowman & Burke 4: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1823
    * Bowman 4: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1842
    * Burke 4: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1857
    * Burke 3 re-assessed: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1894
    * Bowman 5 (part 1): http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1907
    * Bowman 5 (part 2): http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1929
    * Bowman 5 (part 3): http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1936

    Tuggy currently scores the debate thus:

    Revised score up through round 4:

    Bowman: 0
    Burke: 3
    draw: 1

  18. Jason, for an informed commentary on the debate by an actual professional scholar of the Trinity who is both published and recognized in the relevant peer reviewed literature, see Dr Dale Tuggy’s site:

    * Opening comments: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1694

    * Burke 1: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1704
    * Bowman 1: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1715
    * Burke 2: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1723
    * Bowman 2: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1733
    * Bowman 3: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1773
    * Burke 3: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1786
    * Bowman & Burke 4: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1823
    * Bowman 4: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1842
    * Burke 4: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1857
    * Burke 3 re-assessed: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1894
    * Bowman 5 (part 1): http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1907
    * Bowman 5 (part 2): http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1929
    * Bowman 5 (part 3): http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1936

    Tuggy currently scores the debate thus:

    Revised score up through round 4:

    Bowman: 0
    Burke: 3
    draw: 1

  19. Fortigurn it would have been good for you to have noted that, although a “professional,” that doesn’t make him any less biased than the others. In fact, his unitarian bias clearly sticks out throughout his “review.” most of his objections have nothing to do with the exegesis that Bowman offered but with the alleged philosophical problems that Trinitarianism faces with its belief in one God and three Divine Persons. It will become obvious to anyone reading his “review” that Dale bends over backwards for Burke whereas he is dead set against anything Bowman has to say concerning the Biblical evidence for the Trinity. Very “professional” and unbiased indeed.

    There are others who are also commenting on their blogs that actually think that Bowman clearly won by a landslide. However, would it affect your opinion of their views if I had said that they are Trinitarians like Bowman?

  20. @Sam #22:

    1. I agree that Tuggy being a professional doesn’t make him less biased than others. What demonstrates he is less biased is his willingness to concede ground to several of Bowman’s arguments, and the fact that key conclusions he draws are recognized as valid in standard Trinitarian scholarly literature. You can’t dismiss Tuggy as simply biased when he can cite support for his arguments from Trinitarian academics.

    2. I haven’t see Tuggy bend over backwards for Burke. On the contrary, he has held Burke to the same standard as Bowman, and has pointed out more than once instances in which he believes Burke’s case is merely plausible, rather than conclusive.

    3. My opinion of the views of those who think Bowman ‘clearly won by a landslide’ would be affected by their qualifications, their familiarity with the relevant scholarly literature, their academic status, and the extent to which they agree with the scholarly consensus. Their religious beliefs are irrelevant to me.

  21. Fortigurn: Your point #3 is problematic for a few reasons.

    (1) What “qualifications” are you looking for? You obviously think Dale Tuggy is “qualified,” but as I mentioned to you in the other comment thread, he’s a philosopher by training. He’s not a theologian. All of his degrees and areas of teaching competency are in philosophy; not theology.

    (2) What is the “relevant scholarly literature” to which you keep referring? And just how familiar does one have to be with it? What does familiarity entail?

    (3) This appears to border on a genetic fallacy since it appears that you write off non-academics based on their lack of “academic status.” I might be reading you wrong here so please correct me if I am. But what of arguments? Can non-specialists and people without formal training put forth compelling arguments? And if so then should their arguments be evaluated in their own merit?

    (4) Scholarly consensus is a myth, but assuming there were such a thing, how is this not an argumentum ad populum? Something is not true just because it’s popular or believed by a large group of people. Unitarianism depends on this fact since Trinitarianism is by far the more widely held belief!

  22. @Nick #24:

    1. I’m looking for formal qualifications relevant to an examination of the doctrine of the Trinity, and informal qualifications including recognition in the relevant scholarly literature and familiarity with that literature. This does not require formal theological qualifications. The topic covers a range of issues, including philosophy, history, and theology. Jewish studies are relevant. Early Christian studies are relevant. Historical studies are relevant. Tuggy’s qualifications are relevant, for example, which is precisely why he is recognized in the relevant scholarly literature.

    2. I have explained previously what i mean by ‘relevant scholarly literature’. The term ‘relevant literature’ is a general term meaning ‘the recognized academic literature which is relevant to the topic under discussion’. I assume you’re able to discern exactly which works belong to that body of literature with regard to this subject. Familiarity is demonstrated by peer recognition, through published works and citations of one’s corpus.

    3. There is no genetic fallacy. I am simply saying that academic qualifications are one of the criteria which influence my opinion of the views of others. This is not a genetic fallacy, it’s standard academic practice. Subject matter experts are more reliable sources than laymen, or than people who have no formal training or recognize expertise in the field. When your plumber offers to fix the electrical wiring in your house, it is not a genetic fallacy to inform him that you place a higher value on the opinion of a qualified electrician.

    4. Scholarly consensus is not a myth. Please tell me you do actually understand the difference between scholarly consensus and arguemntum ad populum (otherwise I can walk you through it). I agree that somehting is not true just because it’s popular or believed by a large group of people. Are you aware of exactly what a scholarly consensus is, and how it is formed?

  23. Fortigurn: (1) Tuggy’s qualifications qualify him to speak about the Trinity from the perspective of a philosopher, which is how he does speak about the doctrine (I’ve actually read his publications; have you?), but he’s not an historical theologian; a systematic theologian; a patristic scholar; a biblical scholar; or a church historian. Based on his lack of qualification in these areas should I be dismissive if he speaks about them? Or should I evaluate his arguments based on the arguments themselves?

    (2) My problem is your continued vagueness. I’m aware of the relevant scholarly literature in the field because I read broadly (books; journals; unpublished dissertations; academic conference presentations; etc.) but at this point I’m not sure that you’re familiar with what’s relevant. On your understanding of qualifications and peer review I wonder how you would evaluate Dave Burke’s qualifications. In all of my reading I’ve not come across any books on the subject that he’s written nor have I seen him publish anything in any academic journals.

    (3) You seem to be reasoning from the general to the particular. Simply because scholars are generally more reliable than non-scholars doesn’t mean that this applies in all particular cases. This is why it’s important to evaluate arguments qua arguments. Some scholars make horrible arguments (see e.g., either of Kevin Giles’ books on the Trinity). Some non-scholars make great arguments (see e.g., Sam Shamoun’s voluminous writings on the Trinity and Christology on his Answering Islam website).

    To be continued…

  24. …comment continued:

    (4) I’ll ignore the condescension once more (you have a penchant for that, huh?). Scholarly consensus is a myth; sorry to have to be the one to break it to you. For example; what is the scholarly consensus amongst philosophical theologians of the analytic tradition concerning the Trinity? It’s a trick question; there isn’t any. There are proponents for Social Trinitarianism (of varying formulations); Relative Trinitarianism (of varying formulations); and Latin Trinitarianism. No one view has won the day and it doesn’t appear that this is going to change any time soon. Sit three scholars down in a room together and you’ll quickly get 6 opinions on any given subject.

  25. @Nick #26-27:

    1. So we’re agreed that Tuggy is qualified to speak on the Trinity in the way he speaks on the Trinity. Great!

    2. I’m sorry, I didn’t see you ask previously for a list of what I consider the relevant literature. That’s a misunderstanding of the peer review process. I don’t get to determine what constitutes the relevant literature. I’m sure you were taught at university the process of determining the relevant literature on a given subject, so you don’t need me to walk you through it.

    Dave has no formal qualifications on this subject, which is precisely why I do not consider him an authority on this subject. It is also why he appeals to recognized scholarship on this subject.

    3. I agree that because scholars are generally (we should say ‘typically’), more reliable than non-scholars doesn’t mean that this applies in all particular cases. This doesn’t change what I wrote. Your assessment of your buddy’s ‘voluminous writings on the Trinity’ as ‘great arguments’ does not impress me any more than my assessment of Tuggy’s writings on the Trinity would impress you. What I think about Tuggy’s writings is irrelevant. What you think of Shamoun’s writings is irrelevant. Let’s see who is recognized in the testing ground of peer reviewed scholarship.

    4. I don’t know why you keep talking about ‘condescension’. I haven’t said anything condescending. I know that scholarly consensus is not a myth, so you repeating your claim that it is, means nothing to me. The fact that there isn’t a scholarly consensus on every subject discussed in academia does not change the fact that there is such a thing as ‘scholarly consensus’. Previously you intimated that you do not understand the difference between scholarly consensus and argumentum ad populum. Are you now clear on that?

  26. Fortigurn: (1) So could I take from our agreement on Tuggy’s competence as a philosopher, which is due to his training as a philosopher, that he’s incompetent to address other matters in which he has no training? I’m still fuzzy on that.

    (2) At this point I think I can safely conclude that you do not know exactly what is “relevant” since you seem either unwilling or incapable of telling me exactly what you have in mind. I’d ask if you’ve actually read anything that’s relevant but I fear my simple question will be met with more evasion.

    (3) Hows about we engage actual arguments rather than worrying about what letters are appended to someone’s name or where they’ve presented them.

    (4) People rarely recognize when they’re being douchebags. That’s just a general statement. Take it for what it’s worth. I’ve provided an example of scholarly consensus being a myth. I can provide more examples if you need them. You’ve simply restated your claim. I’m gonna have to go with me on this one.

  27. @Nick #29:

    1. You can take it from our agreement that Tuggy is qualified to speak about the Trinity the way he’s speaking about the Trinity. If you change your mind on that, do let me know.

    2. Are you saying you do need me to walk you through the process of determining the relevant literature on a given subject? If necessary, I can do that. I can also tell you how to find out what constitutes the relevant scholarly literature on the subject. Do you want me to do that as well?

    3. I’m perfectly happy engaging actual arguments. I’m equally happy pointing out that Shamoun will be worth reading over McGrath, Dunn, and NT Wright, when he’s published in the relevant peer reviewed scholarly literature, and recognized as such.

    4. You haven’t provided an example of scholarly consensus being a myth. You’ve provided an example of a subject on which there is no scholarly consensus. This does not prove that there is no scholarly consensus on any other subject. For example, there’s a scholarly consensus on climate change. There’s a scholarly consensus on Newtonian physics. There’s a scholarly consensus on post-inflation cosmology. That’s three examples of the existence of scholarly consensus right there. Yet you claim they don’t exist. Do you actually know what a scholarly consensus is? Previously you said you were unable to differentiate between a scholarly consensus and argumentum ad populum. Then you seemed to figure that out. Now it seems you’re not so sure again. I can provide you with a few links to read on the subject if Google is proving tricky.

  28. Fortigurn: So in the same manner that you wouldn’t look to a plumber to do electrical work in your home, you wouldn’t look to a philosopher to do theological work, right?

    (2) I stand vindicated. You clearly do not know or are simply unwilling to articulate what is relevant. There’s no need to belabor this point.

    (3) You’re not happy to engage arguments; you’re happy to engage (although you haven’t actually done so) authors with degrees. BTW, have you actually read Dunn, McGrath, or Wright?

    (4) Interesting how in a discussion about the field of Trinitarian theology you find it necessary to take my statement concerning “scholarly consensus” as universal and applying to all fields. You do recognize that there is a distinction between the humanities and hard sciences, right? Now, back to the point, in what facet of Trinitarian theology are you aware of any scholarly consensus? And your recounting of the events leaves something to be desired.

    I suspect that this will be my last response to you because I’ve already had to repeat myself more than I ever should have. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you.

  29. @Nick #31:

    1. I would look to a philosopher who is qualified in theology, and specializes in the philosophy of religion.

    2. I asked you several times if you’re asking me to give you a list of what constitutes the relevant scholarship, according to the standard method of determining it. You haven’t answered this question yet, and say you ‘stand vindicated’? What has been ‘vindicated’? You never made an argument.

    3. I’m happy to engage arguments. But I won’t treat as equivalent to scholarly commentary, arguments written by someone with a Bachelor of Homeopathy, nor take seriously an unqualified lay commentator who insists that that specific peer reviewed scholarship is in error or dismisses leading academics unless their arguments have withstood professional peer review.

    I have half a dozen books each by Dunn and Wright, another several by McGrath, not to mention many journal articles and papers from all of them (over 15 of Wright’s papers alone), and consult them frequently.

    4. Your statement regarding scholarly consensus was declared in universal terms. Because of this, I pointed out ‘The fact that there isn’t a scholarly consensus on every subject discussed in academia does not change the fact that there is such a thing as ’scholarly consensus’’. That was your chance to say you just meant to say that there’s no scholarly consensus on anything to do with the Trinity (which is also wrong). Instead you repeated your absolute and universal generalization.

    You ask ‘in what facet of Trinitarian theology are you aware of any scholarly consensus?’, which is extraordinary since you have previously given me one yourself.

    If all you mean to say is that the Christian doctrine of God has developed over time then who would argue with that?

    Who would argue with that indeed? Maybe Nick, who says ‘scholarly consensus is a myth’, and who asks in which facet of Trinitarian theology there is…

  30. …a scholarly consensus?

  31. Fortigurn,

    In defence of Nick, it must be remembered that he is not an exegete. He’s a book reviewer, with limited exposure to academic material.

  32. @ Dave #34:

    Noted, thanks. That explains a lot, such as his uncertainty over what constitutes the relevant scholarly literature, and his belief that there is no scholarly consensus on any issue about the Trinity, even though he said there was (I believe he is genuinely confused over this).

  33. The “Threefoldness” of God
    Rob,

    In your introduction you say:

    A possible objection to my argument so far is that it does not show that the “threefoldness” of God that the doctrine of the Trinity affirms has any clear support in the Bible. I will therefore now address this aspect of the doctrine directly.

    I need to raise two points before we go any further.

    Firstly, you refer to the “‘threefoldness’ of God” without telling us what you mean by it. We could make a few guesses, but why should we do this when it’s your responsibility to define your own terms of reference? You should confirm what you mean by “threefoldness”, explain why it is relevant, demonstrate that it is central to Trinitarianism, and provide the criteria for identifying it in Scripture. Without a clear definition of what you’re intending to prove and some means of verifying the proof, how will we know if you’ve succeeded?

    Your introduction goes on to mention “triads” and “triadic patterns”; is this what you mean by “threefoldness”? You don’t explain. You seem to think that they are very important, but why? You don’t explain. Apparently you believe that they help to substantiate Trinitarianism, but how? You don’t explain.

    This vagueness of language and process has been a consistent feature of your exegesis. In some cases you seem to employ it deliberately, to obscure a point and allow yourself some room for exegetical variation if your initial argument is challenged. In other cases your intention is less clear, and seems to reflect indecision or uncertainty. Occasionally you assert a specific definition without substantiating it from an authoritative source (e.g. Biblical lexica), resulting in some unfortunate errors, as we saw from your treatment of morphē in Philippians 2 and aion in Hebrews 1.

    Secondly, let’s be specific about what I am actually requesting:

    1. Biblical proof that Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God
    2. Biblical proof that God consists of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; three persons in one being (“three hypostases in one ousia”, for those who prefer the classical formula)
    3. Biblical proof of the co-eternity, co-equality and consubstantiality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

    That’s what I’m expecting to see from your Week 5 argument. I have not merely requested evidence of an undefined “threefoldness.” Biblical Unitarians can point to verses which state that the Father is the only true God, so Scripture’s definition of God clearly supports my position. But can you show me verses which state that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit comprise the only true God? If not, why not? Is this another weakness of your as-yet-undefined “implicit Trinitarianism”?

    A literary triad does not equate to an ontological triunity. If you believe it does, the burden of evidence lies upon you to prove it.

  34. Matthew 28:19 (I)
    Rob,

    This verse is undoubtedly a genuine part of Scripture, and all attempts to dismiss it (including some by Trinitarians; most notably F. C. Conybeare) have failed.

    In cases where interpolation occurs, it is often possible to detect the fraud by reference to alternative texts in a different region or branch of the early Christian community, since interpolations tended to be localised rather than widespread. Yet the threefold clause (“in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”) appears again and again across a broad spectrum of Christian communities, with almost no variation whatsoever. We find it in the Didache (1st Century) and the writings of Ignatius (2nd Century), Tertullian (3rd Century), Hippolytus (2nd-3rd Century), Cyprian (3rd Century) and Gregory Thaumaturgus (3rd Century) to name just a few. This compares favourably with some other passages of Scripture which we know to be valid, but for which less extra-Biblical evidence is extant.

    The regular appearance of this text in so diverse a range of writings and so consistent a form is strong evidence against interpolation. While some argue that the baptismal formula of Acts (“in the name of Jesus Christ”) contradicts that of Matthew, it seems more likely to me that Acts merely provides a “shorthand” version which had become commonplace by that time. If the Matthean formula was a Christological formula, intended to describe ontological relationships within the Trinity, we would find it repeated elsewhere throughout the NT; and yet, we do not.

    Despite this, some non-Trinitarians still feel uncomfortable with Matthew 28:19, particularly if they have come to Biblical Unitarianism from a mainstream church, where the Trinity is routinely presupposed and read into the text without reference to evidence or context. Yet their concern is misplaced since this verse suggests nothing uniquely Trinitarian, whether explicitly or implicitly. Even J. P. Holding (Is Matthew 28:19 an Interpolation?) does not consider it useful for Christological purposes, despite being a staunch Trinitarian himself:

    I would begin by noting that our own study of the Trinity makes absolutely no use of Matthew 28:19. This verse is not particularly useful for Trinitarian defense as it theoretically could support any view — modalism, even tritheism, could be permitted from this verse, for it only lists the members of the Triune Godhead with absolutely no explanation as to their exact relationship.

    Verse 18 would indicate that the Father is in a functionally superior relationship to the Son, but that says nothing about an ontological relationship; though one may justly argue that it is very unlikely (but not impossible) that all three would be named together if there were not an ontological equality, lest God’s glory somehow be compromised.

    So in a real sense, arguments about the authenticity of Matthew 28:19 don’t serve much of a purpose in this context. However, we have been asked to look at these arguments and offer comment, so we will do so.

    Arguments against the authenticity of this clause represent a minority position within Biblical Unitarianism, which has no relevance to our debate. As I mentioned in Week 1, the Matthean formula is central to the Christadelphian baptismal liturgy and I myself was baptised under it.

  35. Matthew 28:19 (II)
    Rob,

    In the next phase of your argument you refer to “two of the three names in Matthew 28:19.” I presume you mean “referents”, since “God” isn’t a name; “Son” isn’t a name, and “Holy Spirit” isn’t either (despite your unsubstantiated claim to the contrary). You then paraphrase the verse to “express explicitly how the Trinitarian and Biblical Unitarian theologies understand its meaning”, with interesting results:

    Trinitarian: “Baptize disciples in the name of God the Father, the name of God the Son, and the name of God the Holy Spirit.”
    Biblical Unitarian: “Baptize disciples in the name of God, the name of the exalted virgin-born man Jesus, and the name of the power of God.”

    The first thing to notice is your tacit admission that this is yet another passage Trinitarians cannot take at face value. As usual, the text must be adapted to match your Christology because it doesn’t say what you want it to say. Didn’t Matthew know how to write the phrases “God the Son” and “God the Holy Spirit”? I think we can both conclude that he did. So why didn’t he? The most efficient explanation is that he wrote in a way that best reflected his beliefs, which did not include the deity of the Son and Holy Spirit. Biblical Unitarians have no need to speculate on the meaning of his words, or change them to suit ourselves, as you do.

    You say:

    Criticizing the Trinitarian interpretation based on arguments from silence ignores the fact that the Biblical Unitarian interpretation cannot simply repeat the words of the text without explanatory comment. Both views offer an interpretation of the text.

    This falls short of the mark, for two reasons:

    1. I do not employ the alleged arguments from silence you have listed in your analysis, so this objection is irrelevant to me
    2. Biblical Unitarians do offer an explanation of the verse, but not in the form of the gloss you’ve attributed to us; we don’t read Matthew 28:19 in the way that you’ve portrayed, but simply accept it as it is written

    Unlike Trinitarians, Biblical Unitarians have no need to interpret the verse because it is already consistent with our theology and says everything we need it to say.

    Matthew refers to the Father (God), the Son of God (whom we know to be Jesus) and the Holy Spirit (“the power of the Most High”, as Luke calls it). We that “Son of God” means “someone who is God’s son”, whether figuratively or literally (see Luke 1:35, 3:38; 20:36, Romans 8:14; Galatians 3:26). We also know that it was a title of the Messiah (John 1:49, “Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!'”) and that the Jewish leaders correctly understood it this way (Matthew 26:63, “The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God'”).

    What interpretation is required here? None at all — unless you’re a Trinitarian! So why not accept what Matthew is saying at face value, as I do? At Christadelphian baptisms the formula is used without explanatory gloss, because there’s no need to look for deeper Christological significance. We don’t read ontology into the verse. We just take it as it’s written, as its original audience would have done.

    You claim that “Holy Spirit” is “a name, like “Father” and “Son.” On what basis? You’ve given us no reason to believe this; you’ve merely asserted it. The Father and Son both have specific names (“Yahweh” and “Jesus”), and the Biblical use of “Father” and “Son” demonstrates that these are titles, not proper names. If “Holy Spirit” was a name, why doesn’t Scripture treat it as one? We regularly read constructions like “the Holy Spirit”, which if your theory is true, would be equivalent to saying “the Matthew”, or “the Jesus.” It doesn’t make any sense. Your entire exegesis leans far too heavily upon the word “name”, to the extent that you are effectively interpreting the English instead of the Greek.

    Scripture’s normative use of the phrase “in the name of…” occurs as a reference to action within the context of delegated authority, regardless of whether or not that authority is literally identified by name. This is a typical Hebrew idiom, carried over from OT to NT. For example:

    • Deuteronomy 18:20, “‘But if any prophet presumes to speak anything in my name that I have not authorized him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die'”
    • I Chronicles 21:19, “So David went up as Gad instructed him to do in the name of the LORD”
    • Esther 3:12, “In the name of King Ahasuerus it was written and sealed with the king’s signet ring”
    • Jeremiah 2:8, “‘Your prophets prophesied in the name of the god Baal'”
    • Matthew 10:41-42, “‘Whoever receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple, I tell you the truth, he will never lose his reward'”
    • II Thessalonians 3:6, “But we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”

    The Matthew 10 reference is particularly useful, since it provides a test case for your claim that “Holy Spirit” is a literal name. Would you say that “prophet” and “disciple” are also literal names? After all, the same construction is used here as in Matthew 28:19. No, I think you would deny that “prophet” and “disciple” are literal names, whilst claiming the exact opposite for the Great Commission. Yet this results in the fallacy of special pleading, which is untenable. You say that the Holy Spirit must be a person because it has a name; but how is this evidence of literal personhood? The Taj Mahal has a name, yet it is not a person.

    Why not just take Matthew at face value? Doesn’t it make better sense to accept that he means nothing more than Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:41-42, Paul’s words in II Thessalonians 3:6, or any of the OT verses we’ve looked at? Interestingly, you make no mention of the difference between the baptismal formulae of Matthew and Acts. Surely the difference in “name” (“Father, Son and Holy Spirit” as opposed to “Jesus Christ”) requires some explanation from the perspective of your interpretation?

  36. Matthew 28:19 (III)
    Rob,

    You say:

    Also recall the evidence I presented in the previous round that in biblical usage the term “spirit” (pneuma) commonly designates an incorporeal, invisible person, being, or entity. This means that the presumptive conclusion with regard to Matthew 28:19 must be that the Holy Spirit is also a divine person.

    Correction: you showed that in Biblical usage “spirit” can designate “an incorporeal, invisible person, being, or entity” (with which I agreed) but you did not prove that it commonly does so. Pneuma occurs ~378 times in the NT, and more than 220 of those occurrences refer to the Holy Spirit. In a further ~82 places pneuma refers to a frame of mind, a disposition, an inclination, an attitude, etc. or human life (e.g. . There are perhaps ~47 places where it refers to a spirit entity of some sort (including evil spirits and angels).

    We are under no obligation to accept your “presumptive conclusion.” At the very most it may be an option, but it is not one we “must” accept. You have given us no reason to believe that pneuma is being used in the sense of “an incorporeal, invisible person, being, or entity” in Matthew 28:19. Furthermore, as I demonstrated in my rebuttal to your Week 4 argument, this use of pneuma is not what Trinitarianism requires, since you believe the Holy Spirit to be a person within the Godhead, not a separate personal being.

    The NT contains no examples of pneuma being used in the way that Trinitarianism teaches. As in Week 4, you have merely proved that the NT usage of “spirit” as a supernatural being is not suitable for Trinitarian metaphysics. Even if I allowed that pneuma was being used this way in Matthew 28:19, you would only have an additional being alongside God; you would not have an additional person within the Godhead.

  37. Matthew 28:19 (IV)
    Rob,

    Matthew 28:19 is consistent with the other “authority delegation” verses I have listed. Jesus’ disciples were told to baptise in the name of the Father (the source of authority), the Son (who gave them this authority), and the Holy Spirit, which enabled them to prove their authority by miraculous works (cf. 2Co 12:12, “Indeed, the signs of an apostle were performed among you with great perseverance by signs and wonders and powerful deeds”).

    The apostles were to baptise with the authority of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; they had no inherent authority of their own. After receiving the Holy Spirit they would become a body of believers, sharing the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (II Corinthians 13:13). Their possession of the Spirit, demonstrated by the gifts of the Spirit, constituted their own authority to baptise. An individual apostle or future believer would therefore baptise in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit, which sanctified the church and its leaders.

    Thus there is a threefold authority here. The Father is the source, the Son is the delegate, and the Holy Spirit is the confirmation. Without the Father there can be no authority; without the Son there is no divinely appointed agent to pass on the authority; without the Holy Spirit the authority cannot be demonstrated. All three are necessarily included in the baptismal formula. The context is not an ontological one, as even Trinitarian scholars have agreed.

    R. H. Mounce (New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991, p.268):

    Questions regarding the divine essence and the relationships between the members of the Godhead belong to the later theological development of the church. That Jesus should gather together into summary form his own references to “the Father” (11:27; 24:36), to himself as “the Son” (11:27; 16:27), and to “the Spirit” (12:28) in his final charge to the disciples seems quite natural.

    Though we are not dealing with an advanced trinitarian formulation, we certainly have more than the concept of God as going beyond the intellectual to include “the instant experience of love” and “also the assurance of future love” (Schweizer, p. 534).

    Also J. Nolland (The Gospel of Matthew: A commentary on the Greek text, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005, p.1269):

    The choice of language is well rooted in earlier Matthean language. So it seems natural to think of Matthew as taking up important strands of the story he has been telling. In 1:1 Matthew summarised in a triad of names the genealogy to follow, by means of which he defined Jesus in relation to the history of God’s prior dealings with his people.

    Now at the end Matthew sums up his own narrative and identifies in briefest compass the significance of his chief protagonist by speaking of Jesus as the Son in relation to the Father and as closely linked with the Holy Spirit. Matthew’s story has been about the action of the Father through the Son and by means of the Holy Spirit. And that is what the baptised are joined to.

    Finally B. M. Newman & P. C. Stine (A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, New York: United Bible Societies, 1992, p.886), who refer to this verse as a “Trinitarian formula” but nevertheless conclude:

    In the name of means “by the authority of”; most translations retain the literal form, perhaps under the influence of church tradition. In some cases the phrase will have to be used with all three authorities, as in “in the name of the Father, in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit.”

    For the rest of your argument you simply list passages of Scripture where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned. The net result is to demonstrate that we can always find a place in Scripture where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned together — provided that we draw a large enough circle. In your exegesis, the personhood of the Spirit is always assumed (never proven from the text), as is the deity of Christ. This is a classic example of eisegesis.

  38. John 14:26
    Rob,

    I addressed the relationship between Jesus and the Paraclete in Week 4, so I’ll just repeat the explanation I gave there. Note that although I focus on slightly different verses, my exegesis applies equally well to John 14:26.

    • John 14:16-17, “‘Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.'”
    • John 15:26 “‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father — the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father — he will testify about me.'”

    Jesus’ use of personal language can be read as a typological recall of Exodus 23: 20-21, signifying that he would send the Holy Spirit to act in the same capacity as the “angel of the presence.” Note, however, that Jesus’ language only goes so far: it presents nothing stronger than the personification language we have already seen in Proverbs, it does not ascribe any divine names or titles to the Holy Spirit, and it does not ascribe any uniquely divine properties, privileges or attributes to the Holy Spirit.

    Why doesn’t Jesus refer to the Holy Spirit as “God”, or even “Lord”? Why doesn’t he prepare his disciples for the earth-shattering revelation that the power of God they have witnessed and experienced for the past three and a half years, is in fact yet another person of God Himself? Even at Pentecost this concept is still not “revealed.” What could be the reason?

    Max Turner recognises the theological poverty of these verses as Trinitarian proof texts:

    The fact remains that the clearest presentation of the personal being of the Spirit in the New Testament comes in John 14-16, where John presents the Spirit-Paraclete as a figure set in parallel to Jesus, mediating the Father and the Son to the disciples as Jesus had mediated the Father during his ministry (Jn 14.6-11).

    But even in these circumstances there is no suggestion made by John that Christians (after Jesus’ glorification) will consciously receive the Spirit, and experience him, as a divine Person. Jesus as mediator of the Father revealed himself; but the Spirit precisely does not do so (16.13), revealing only Christ and the Father. Appropriately, Smail entitled his chapter on the person of the Spirit, ‘The Person without a Face’.

    (Power from On High: The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts, p.44-5).

    You ask:

    one imagine Elijah, or Michael the archangel, making such a statement?

    Of course not. Jesus is far superior to the prophets and angels (see Hebrews 1).

  39. Acts 2:33
    Rob,

    You say:

    Biblical Unitarians interpret Psalm 110:1 to mean that the LORD YHWH exalted a mere man to be the Messianic lord, and so they understand Acts 2:36 to mean that Jesus’ designation as “lord” refers to a status that he acquired for the first time in his exaltation.

    Wrong. This is a misrepresentation. In previous weeks I have repeatedly demonstrated that I believe Jesus was Messiah and Lord before his death, resurrection and exaltation. I showed that Jesus claimed these titles throughout his ministry. I have never said that Jesus only became “Lord” for the first time at his resurrection and exaltation. That is not my position.

    Having created this straw man argument you proceed to attack it vigorously, yet to what purpose? You go on to show from Luke that Jesus was indeed Lord and Messiah before his resurrection; but you should know from previous weeks that I agree with all this, so what’s your point?

    Finally you resurrect the Romans 10/Joel 2/Acts 2 connection, which I addressed in my Week 3 rebuttal (click here for the relevant section). Ironically, throughout your entire exegesis of Acts 2:33 you never explain what you believe Peter to mean when he says that God has made Jesus “Lord and Christ.” The closest you get is this:

    Evidently, by “God made him both Lord and Christ” Luke understands Peter to mean that in his resurrection and exaltation, Jesus was vindicated or publicly presented or officially declared to the world as both Lord and Christ (cf. Rom. 1:4).

    Rob, the Greek word for “made” in Acts 2:33 is poieō and does not mean “vindicated and or publicly presented or officially declared.” It means ” make, produce”; “create, bring into existence”; “bring about, cause”; “put in a certain place or condition” (see the Liddell-Scott-James definition and full semantic range here). However we understand this, we must accept it means God was responsible for the fact that Jesus is Lord and Christ.

    To Biblical Unitarians, it is easily comprehended by the fact that God brought him into existence and granted him the authority required for his mission. But what does it mean for a Trinitarian? You’ve claimed “vindicated or publicly presented or officially declared to the world”, yet this is not supported by the Greek. At most you could argue for “appointed” or “constituted” (Albert Barnes is one Trinitarian commentator who took this view) but since you believe that “Lord” here means “Yahweh”, this still leaves you with the problem of Jesus being “made” Yahweh, which Trinitarianism cannot accept.

    It’s just another of those awkward Trinitarian self-contradictions.

  40. Romans 8:9-11, 26-27, 33-34
    Rob,

    This passage refers to the operation of the Holy Spirit within believers who have received it and seek to be guided by its influence. Verse 11 refers to “the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead.” This helps to establish the context by telling us that the “Spirit” here is something God possesses. In other words, the “Spirit” which intercedes for us is God’s Spirit; not “God the Spirit.” Consider the same construction in other contexts:

    • John 14:17, “the spirit of truth”
    • Acts 16:7, “the spirit of Jesus”
    • Romans 8:15, “the spirit of slavery… the spirit of adoption”
    • Romans 11:8, “a spirit of stupor”
    • I Corinthians 2:12, “the spirit of the world”
    • I Corinthians 4:21, “a spirit of gentleness”
    • II Corinthians 4:13, “the same spirit of faith”
    • Ephesians 4:23, “the spirit of your mind”
    • Hebrews 10:29, “the spirit of grace”
    • I Peter 4:14, “the spirit of glory”
    • I John 4:6, “the spirit of deceit”
    • Revelation 19:10, “the spirit of prophecy”

    Are these “spirits” all “persons”? No, they are aspects; attributes; inclinations; dispositions; reflections of the mind.

    Note that the grammatical gender of pneuma in Romans 9:16 is neutral, so there is no justification for translating it “The Spirit himself bears witness…” A more accurate rendering is “The Spirit itself bears witness…”, which removes the false impression that the Spirit is a person (or even personified).

    The Spirit can “bear witness” without actually being a person, as can the conscience (Romans 2:15, “They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness”), miraculous signs (Hebrews 2:4, “while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit”), and the faded glory of hoarded riches (James 5:3, “Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you.”)

    The NET Bible translates verse 26 as “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will.” The “he” is clearly God, but the second reference to “the Spirit” is a translator’s gloss, as confirmed by a footnote:

    “he,” or “it”; the referent (the Spirit) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

    Thus the NET translators agree that this second reference to the Holy Spirit could be translated “he” or “it”; the personal pronoun is not a foregone conclusion. You have shown us nothing in this entire section of Romans 8 which requires or even suggests that the Holy Spirit is a person, let alone that it is God.

  41. I Corinthians 12:4-6
    Rob,

    All of a sudden parallelisms are fashionable again (quelle surprise!) But you misapply the rule here, and fail to show any parallelisms in this passage. Scripture contains five different types of parallelism (“synonymous”, “antithetical”, “constructive”, “chiastic”, and “stairlike”) and none of them are found in this passage.

    As I demonstrated in my Week 4 rebuttal, a true synonymous parallelism presents a candidate for epexegesis via the presence of a conjunction, juxtaposing the first referent against the second to imply an equivalence. Thus:

    • Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to walk by, and a light to illumine my path”
    • Matthew 11:30, “For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry”

    This construction does not occur in I Corinthians 12:4-6. All you’ve done is present three verses which mention “Spirit”, “Lord” and “God” are mentioned in close proximity. You have not proved that the Spirit is a person, nor have you proved that the Spirit, Christ and God are ontologically consubstantial.

    It is important to bear in mind the context of this chapter. Paul is emphasising that the operation of the Holy Spirit is the same wherever it is found, since the Holy Spirit comes from God (verse 11, “it is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things”). There is no difference between the Spirit at work in the Corinthian church and the Spirit at work in the Ephesian church. It is the same Spirit from the same God, testifying to the same Lord.

    Paul goes on to use this as a basis for his appeal to unity in a series of extended metaphors relating to the body of Christ. There is no mention of the “triune God.”

  42. II Corinthians 13:14
    Rob,

    As with I Corinthians 12, there is no suggestion of ontological consubstantiality here. We don’t even have any evidence that the Holy Spirit is a person; this is something you must bring to the text.

  43. Galatians 4:4-6
    Rob,

    Your interpretation of this passage seems to equate the Son with the Spirit of God’s Son, which results in Modalism. As with I Corinthians 12, there is no parallelism here, no evidence that the Holy Spirit is a person, and no suggestion of ontological consubstantiality. Please refer to this article for an explanation of parallelism and the way it is applied in Scripture. You are still getting it wrong.

  44. Ephesians 2:18-22
    Rob,

    Quite apart from your arbitrary translation of “Lord” as “Yahweh” (a problematic eisegesis, for reasons I explained in my Week 3 rebuttal), it is difficult to see how you’re trying to achieve the necessary result from this passage. Once again we have the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all mentioned (in separate verses… saying different things…) but what is there to suggest that they are all deity and ontologically consubstantial?

    Your comments on this passage don’t actually prove anything; they merely provide a commentary on your own personal views.

  45. Ephesians 4:4-6
    Rob,

    Here we have one of the earliest Christian creeds: one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is our Father. The significance of this creed is found in the repetition of “one”; every element of the creed is individual and distinguished from the others. The body is the church (I Corinthians 10:16; Ephesians 4:12); the Spirit is the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16; Luke 2:27); the Lord is Jesus (Mark 16:19; Acts 1:21); the faith is the Christian message (Acts 6:7; Colossians 1:23); the baptism is immersion by water (Matthew 3:5-6; Acts 8:38); God is the Father (John 17:3; I Corinthians 8:6). That last point seals the deal: God is defined exclusively as the Father.

    Ontological consubstantiality is notable by absence. Your attempts to suggest otherwise amount to nothing more than a false dilemma and a non sequitur (the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premise).

  46. Ephesians 5:18-21 & I Peter 2:1
    Rob,

    My comments on Ephesians 4:4-6 apply equally here. All you’re doing is presenting conclusions and asking us to agree with them. You haven’t demonstrated that these conclusions are valid, nor even how the evidence supports them.

  47. Conclusion
    Rob,

    As we saw in Week 1, the Trinity consists of two essential components: a trinity of persons and a triunity of persons. I know that you agree with this, since you argued for the individual deity of the Son and Holy Spirit in Weeks 2-4, and the triunity in Week 5. In an online article (The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity) you define the Trinity this way:

    The uniqueness of God (cf. III above) should prepare us for the possibility that the one divine Being exists uniquely as a plurality of persons

    “One divine being as a plurality of persons.” That is precisely the definition I have been working with since Week 1. Now the debate is wrapping up, it’s good to see we’re both still on the same page, sharing the same Trinitarian definitions. There can be no accusation that I have either failed to understand the Trinity or misrepresented it.

    While reading your Week 5 argument I was struck by the absence of Biblical typology. If the Trinity is a legitimate doctrine, we would expect to find it reflected in Scriptural symbolism. Even if Trinitarianism is merely “implicit” in Scripture (whatever you want that word to mean), and even if it only emerged as part of a “progressive revelation”, the building blocks should already be established in the OT, as they are for every key aspect of the Christian message (e.g. the atonement, the identity of the Messiah, the Second Advent, the Kingdom of God and the extension of the Abrahamic promises to the Gentiles).

    If there is only one place in the whole of the OT where Trinitarianism should be prefigured, it is the Law of Moses, where the identity of God is clearly spelled out and the Christian atonement is consistently taught through symbolic representation. At the very least we would need to see the deity of Christ represented somehow in the Mosaic rituals (particularly the sacrifices). So why can’t we find it there? In short: what is the place of Trinitarianism in Biblical theology? Current evidence suggests it has no place at all. It is a redundant doctrine in search of relevance.

    You have already admitted that you cannot show any place in Scripture where “God” refers to the Trinity as a whole (ie. as the triunity of persons in one being). This fact alone should give you pause for thought. Yet you cannot infer this idea from the evidence of Scripture, since there is nothing in the Bible which suggests that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are ontologically consubstantial. Even your primary Trinitarian formula (the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God) does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the three comprise a triunity of persons within a single being. You need to prove the second (God is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit) independently of it.

    Thus we see that your conception of a triune God is not derived from Scripture — even indirectly — nor from logic or reason. It is necessarily extrapolated from post-Biblical theological tradition. If you were a Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox, this would not be a problem. But as an evangelical you have no such option, for the Westminster Confession of Faith (which you presented as a touchstone of orthodoxy in Week 1) expressly forbids this.

    Throughout your argument you have claimed the NT presents a “triad” of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This implies that an established formula, yet we find nothing of the sort. While the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned often, they are not listed in any consistent order, formula, name order, or linking statements. So where is this “triad”? Even the Matthean formula appears only once, and never again. As I said earlier, the net result of your argument is to demonstrate that we can always find a place in Scripture where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned together — provided we draw a large enough circle! This strikes me as blatantly contrived.

    I found it interesting that some of your “triads” were mixed with other terms and even divided by entire verses, thus weakening the alleged connection for which you are arguing. Many of them use the word “God” instead of Father, which is surely problematic for your case, since you need to show that “God” is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Verses which refer to “God”, “Jesus” and “the Holy Spirit” necessarily imply an ontological distinction between the three, not the essential unity that your theology requires. If you wish to claim that “God” means “Father” in these verses, I can only say that this proves my point exactly; the apostles just didn’t think of God as a triunity. When they thought “God”, they thought “the Father.” That was their default definition of “God.”

    I also noticed that you filtered out the many times that God is mentioned on His own (whether as “the Father” or simply “God”), along with verses referring only to the Father and Son. This carefully selective process reflects the weakness of your position, which lacks a consistent thread of evidence. If I were to collate all your proof texts I could probably make a better case for the “duality” of God, as opposed to the triunity.

    Your attempted use of parallelism to strengthen your case (an interesting flip-flop, given your previous rejection of this principle) was undermined by the fact that you don’t appear to understand it, and consequently misapplied it. Again I refer you to this article for an explanation of parallelism and the way it is applied in Scripture.

    The coming of Jesus and his subsequent exaltation necessarily resulted in a twofold first-century Christian experience of God and Christ which had been absent from the Jewish experience. The bestowal of the Holy Spirit brought a third dimension, but it is a mistake to turn this spiritual experience of the faithful into an ontological trinity. Throughout Scripture the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are consistently distinguished from each other; never bundled together into an ontological relationship of eternal coeternity and consubstantiality.

    We often find them mentioned within the same context (albeit sometimes several verses apart) but this is precisely what we would expect to find, considering the spiritual connection they share. Significantly, we always find the Son described as subordinate to the Father, and the Holy Spirit never mentioned in terms of rank at all. Nor do we ever find the Holy Spirit “speaking” in the same way as the Father and Son, with persistent self-references, and conversations with other persons. Crucially, we never find them described in the language of consubstantiality, coeternity and coequality.

    Biblical Unitarians confess the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as central elements of Christianity. Some BUs believe that the Holy Spirit is still available today, along with its miraculous gifts. We recognise the Father as God of Gods, the source of all things; the Son as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, second only to God; the Holy Spirit as the power and personal presence of God, working in the lives of believers throughout history, providing guidance, comfort and divine authority. We are baptised under the Matthean formula of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We praise God and Christ with songs in which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all mentioned together. A hymn commonly sung throughout the Christadelphian community has this refrain:

    Glory to the Father be,
    By the Son’s supremacy,
    In the Spirit’s mystery,
    Hallelujah; yea, Amen!

    Biblical Unitarians do not shy away from a trifold Christian experience; we simply believe that it must be understood through Biblical eyes, not through the lens of Chalcedonian formulations and Hellenic philosophical concepts. Jesus himself criticised those who failed to recognise him, insisting that everything about his identity and mission had been taught in the Law and prophets; even Nicodemus was berated for failing to understand the meaning of being “born again”!

    Christ did not excuse anyone on the basis of “progressive revelation”, but repeatedly emphasised the essential role of the OT as the foundation of Christian theology. Later, the apostles preached and articulated their Christology using only the language of Scripture, repeatedly demonstrating that it was drawn directly from the OT.

    The most accurate understanding of the Biblical God is the one that adheres more closely to these divinely inspired examples.

  48. Whilst I disagree in the concept/theory of a Trinity per se, I believe we must be careful not to effectively separate God, Christ and their Holy Spirit. These three are One in Spirit and Purpose.However, where Christadelphians and most non-Trinitarians/Biblical Unitarians/Unitarians disagree is that God is One Person (LORD) made up of Three LORDS. Also, God’s Spirit is spoken of as Himself quite a few times in Scriptures (the account of Ananias and Sapphira for just one example) and God’s Spirit can be “grieved.” Christadelphian belief has always accepted that God and His Spirit are One, just not that there are both distinct personalities (separate Lords.) I believe the confusion mainly lies in the fact that there are three Lords, God, the Father, Christ, His Son and the Holy Spirit of God. However, only the LORD God, the Father is God Himself. His Spirit comes from Him and it part of Him, not a distinct separate personality, being, entity or Lord

    Hope this helps!

  49. Dave,

    I don’t remember these two verses being discussed in this debate. I am wondering how you as a Unitarian understand them?

    Zecariah 12:10 “”I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.”

    John 19:37 “And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced”.

    In Zechariah 12, it is the LORD speaking and He speaks of Himself as being the one that is pierced. In John, this is referred to as a prophecy that was fulfilled in Jesus death. How could the LORD refer to Himself as being the one pierced here if Jesus was not also that LORD? This seems to be way more then agency at work here to me.

  50. My comments on Ephesians 4:4-6 apply equally here. All you’re doing is presenting conclusions and asking us to agree with them. You haven’t demonstrated that these conclusions are valid, nor even how the evidence supports them.

    Dave, you must be talking about another debate with someone else since it is clear to us that Bowman has not only presented solid evidence to back up his case but he has actually schooled you along the way documenting your gross exegetical and logical fallacies. All you are doing at this point is projecting since it is you who have made dozens of assertions hoping that not only we agree with them but that we also fail to see that you haven’t provided a scintilla of evidence to back up your eisegesis.

    Dave, time to face reality. You lost this debate BADLY and you were simply outmatched by Bowman. I pray that the Lord will use this to bring you out of your false sect and into his glorious truth which Bowman presented by the grace of the risen Lord.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Great Trinity Debate (Comments Part 5) « The Prodigal Thought - May 19, 2010

    […] Great Trinity Debate over at Parchment & Pen. For Rob Bowman’s fifth installment, click here. For David Burke’s fifth installment, click […]

  2. trinities - SCORING THE BURKE – BOWMAN DEBATE – ROUND 5 – BOWMAN – PART 1(DALE) - May 19, 2010

    […] In round 5, Bowman aims to show that the “threefoldness” of God is implied by the Bible. At issue is how to explain “triadic” mentions of Father, Son, and Spirit (Or God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, etc.). Bowman mentions his list of fifty such passages. Here he focuses on a dozen passages. But first, his recap of where he thinks the debate is so far: In the preceding three rounds of this debate, I have argued that the person of Jesus Christ existed as God prior to the creation of the world and that the Holy Spirit is also a divine person. If my argument up to this point has been successful, I have thoroughly refuted the Biblical Unitarian position and established two key elements of the doctrine of the Trinity. Add to these two points the premises that there is only one God who existed before creation and that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Father is not the Holy Spirit, and the only theological position in the marketplace of ideas that is left is the doctrine of the Trinity. Since these are all premises that Biblical Unitarianism accepts, I have not defended them here. (emphases added) […]

  3. trinities - May 24, 2010

    SCORING THE BURKE – BOWMAN DEBATE – ROUND 5 – BOWMAN – PART 3 (DALE)…

    As I explained in the previous installment, in round 5 Bowman is trying to show that not only does the Bible imply that all three Persons are divine, but also that they in some sense are the one God. In other words, he wants to show how the NT brings t…