Blog

The Great Trinity Debate, Part 6: Rob Bowman’s Closing Statement

I would like to thank David Burke for taking so much time from his busy life to participate in this debate. His efforts have given all of us an opportunity to learn a great deal from the contrasting arguments for our two theological positions.

Trinitarianism versus Unitarianism: Defining the Issues

The doctrine of the Trinity is biblical if and only if all of the following propositions are biblical teachings:

  1. One eternal uncreated being, the LORD God, alone created all things.
  2. The Father is the LORD God.
  3. The Son, who became the man Jesus Christ, is the LORD God.
  4. The Holy Spirit is the LORD God.
  5. The Father and the Son stand in personal relation with each other.
  6. The Father and the Holy Spirit stand in personal relation with each other.
  7. The Son and the Holy Spirit stand in personal relation with each other.

The only theological position that affirms all seven of the above propositions is the Trinity. However, each of these propositions finds affirmation in at least one or more non-Trinitarian doctrines. Biblical Unitarianism affirms #1, #2, and #5; Jehovah’s Witnesses affirm #2 and #5; Mormonism affirms #3 and #5, #6, and #7; and Oneness Pentecostalism affirms #1, #2, #3, and #4. Since each of these propositions has some non-Trinitarian theologies that affirm them, none of these propositions presupposes the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity just happens to be the one theological position that can and does affirm all of the propositions.

Partisans for these different theologies claim that the Bible clearly teaches the propositions they affirm out of the seven listed above. Biblical Unitarians and Oneness Pentecostals think it is obvious from the Bible that the LORD God alone created all things; Oneness Pentecostals think it is obvious from the Bible that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God; Mormons think it is obvious from the Bible that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are personally distinct. I agree with them! The Bible does clearly teach all seven of the above propositions.

Yet, when Trinitarians appeal to the Bible in defense of these same propositions, non-Trinitarians claim that Trinitarians approach the Bible from a biased Trinitarian perspective. Admittedly, a Trinitarian may be biased, just as anyone may be, but adherence to any one of these propositions is not in and of itself evidence of Trinitarian bias, since there are anti-Trinitarians who also agree in each case that the proposition is clearly taught in the Bible.

What really drives criticism of the doctrine of the Trinity is the perception that it is illogical, unreasonable, and irrational. Critics of the doctrine universally argue that it is logically impossible to affirm all seven of the above propositions at the same time. This is an important issue in its own right, but it is not the question we are addressing in this debate. The question here is which doctrine—Unitarianism or Trinitarianism—is most faithful to all that the Bible teaches. If the Bible teaches all seven propositions, then Trinitarianism is the correct answer to that question. I do not think the doctrine of the Trinity is illogical, but I do think that it may be that this is one aspect of God’s being that is beyond our comprehension. As I argued in Part 1 of this debate, the Bible does teach that God is incomprehensible, and so we ought not to reject a doctrine such as the Trinity merely because we find it logically puzzling. For those who are interested in the philosophical question of how the doctrine of the Trinity can be coherent—that is, how one can affirm all seven propositions—I recommend a new book by Thomas H. McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).

Since Unitarians and Trinitarians agree that the LORD God alone created the world (#1), that the Father is the LORD God (#2), and that the Father and the Son are personally distinct (#5), I have no obligation in this debate to defend these propositions. If I were debating a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness, or a Oneness Pentecostal, the debate would look very different, because I would be spending much of my time defending propositions that Dave and I both affirm!

Setting aside the three propositions to which both Unitarians and Trinitarians agree, this leaves four propositions for me to defend. However, the task can be simplified considerably. Basically, Trinitarians and Unitarians have two key differences. First, Trinitarianism affirms that Jesus Christ, the Son, is the LORD God; Unitarianism denies this claim. Second, Trinitarianism affirms that the Holy Spirit is a person; Unitarianism, particularly as Dave and other Christadelphians espouse it, does not. If the Holy Spirit is a person, Christadelphians will have to concede that he is distinct from the Father (who sent him) and the Son. Thus, in this debate I have focused on defending two claims: (1) that Jesus Christ is the LORD God, and (2) that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person.

In what follows, I will do little more than review the discussion that Dave and I had in the first five rounds of this debate. The rest of this post contains numerous hyperlinks that will take the reader to the specific posts or comments to which I refer. This will hopefully make this concluding post a useful point of departure for those wishing to follow and understand the back-and-forth discussions that we have had.

ONE GOD = THE FATHER: A REVIEW OF DAVE’S ARGUMENT

Most of Dave’s argumentation has focused on defending the claim that the Father alone is the LORD God to the exclusion of Jesus Christ. Dave’s main arguments for this claim were as follows:

  • The Bible says that God is one (Deut. 6:4, the Shema), and the Jews have always understood this to mean that God is unipersonal. Since Jesus and the apostles, who were all Jewish, affirmed the biblical teaching that God is one (e.g., Mark 12:29), they must also have believed that God is unipersonal.
  • The pervasive use of singular pronouns for God throughout the Bible proves that God is unipersonal, whereas the plural pronouns in Genesis 1:26 can refer to angelic members of the heavenly court.
  • Jesus identified the Father as the only true God and excluded himself as that God (John 17:3), and elsewhere denied claiming to be God (John 10:34-36).
  • Paul explicitly identified the “one God” as the Father and in that context distinguished him from Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 8:6).
  • The Bible consistently teaches that Jesus Christ is a human being and that he needed to be a human being in order to redeem us; and he cannot be both a human being and God.
  • The NT’s explicit teaching that Jesus is the Son of God is incompatible with identifying him as the LORD God.

Therefore, Dave concludes, God is a unipersonal being and is the Father alone, whereas Jesus Christ is not and cannot be God. Here is how I have responded to these arguments.

Jesus and the Shema. The Shema affirms that the LORD (Yahweh, Jehovah) is “our God” and is “one,” but, as I pointed out it in Part 1, it does not address the nature of God’s oneness. If we are to determine how Jesus and the apostles understood the Shema, we must let them speak for themselves in the NT. In fact, Jesus included himself with the Father in the identity of the “one” (John 10:30), and Paul referred to Jesus as the “one Lord” (1 Cor. 8:6; 12:4; Eph. 4:5).

Pronouns. The pervasive use of singular pronouns for God is perfectly consistent with Trinitarianism, which views the LORD God as one indivisible, infinite, and personal Being. In a comment on the issue of pronouns, I showed that singular personal pronouns do not always refer to a single person (e.g., Psa. 25:22; 130:8) and gave several reasons why the plural pronouns in Genesis 1:26 cannot refer to angelic members of the heavenly court.

Jesus never denied that he was God. In John 17:3, Jesus affirmed that the Father is the only true God. In Part 2, I explained that since Trinitarianism affirms that there is only one true God and that the Father is God, Jesus’ statement here actually agrees with Trinitarianism. The disjunction in that verse is not between Jesus Christ and God, but between Jesus Christ and the Father. At most, one might claim that John 17:3 implicitly excludes Jesus from being “true God,” but it does not do so explicitly. Thus, John 17:3 must be correlated with the rest of what John says about Jesus Christ, not used to deny what other texts explicitly say. Likewise, in John 10:34-36 Jesus did not deny that he was God, as I explained in a comment on John 10:31-39.

1 Corinthians 8:6—Jesus is the “one Lord.” A good deal of our debate focused on 1 Corinthians 8:4-6. In Part 3, I argued that Paul’s reference to that Father as the “one God” and Jesus as the “one Lord” both clearly allude to the Shema, so that the text identifies Jesus as the LORD himself. Against Dave’s objection that Paul’s use of the words “one God” exclusively for the Father disproves the Trinitarian claim that Jesus is God, I explained in an important rebuttal comment that this objection confuses vocabulary with meaning. 1 Corinthians 8:6 no more denies that Jesus is God than it denies that the Father is Lord. In a follow-up comment, I replied to some other objections from Dave and pointed out that Erik Waaler’s dissertation The Shema and the First Commandment in First Corinthians, which he had cited, thoroughly supports my conclusion. In another follow-up comment, I responded to James McGrath’s recent attempt to refute the same conclusion.

Jesus is a man. Unfortunately, throughout the debate Dave has insisted on treating the fact that Jesus was a real man as a key difference between Unitarianism and Trinitarianism. He claims, despite the emphasis with which Trinitarians throughout church history have affirmed that Jesus was a man, that they cannot really mean it. For example, after ticking off various aspects of Christ’s humanity, including his virgin birth, growth as a child, temptation, sinlessness, death, and resurrection, Dave claimed: “None of this is true of the Trinitarian Jesus.” As I pointed out in my rebuttal comment, this is a slanderously false criticism. There is nothing intrinsic to the nature or experience of being human that orthodox Christians do not regard as true about Jesus. This truth is absolutely essential to orthodox doctrine. Dave claims that I as a Trinitarian cannot affirm that Jesus is a man “without qualification.” However, not only is this not so, but it is Dave who must qualify and equivocate much of what the NT says about Christ. Thus, Dave doesn’t think the NT means it when it calls Jesus God, says that all things were created through him, or says that he came down from heaven.

Jesus is the Son of God. Dave also made the interesting—and bizarre—claim that Biblical Unitarians believe that Jesus is the “literal” Son of God. But as I pointed out in response, Unitarians do not believe that Jesus is God’s “literal” Son because they do not believe that God procreated Jesus or that Jesus is the same kind of being as God. In another comment, I showed that even though “Son of God” in Jewish parlance might be used simply as a synonym for “Messiah,” Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God was repeatedly understood by the Jews as claiming equality with God (John 5:17-18; 10:30-33; 19:7).

MY LORD AND MY GOD: THE CASE FOR THE ETERNAL DEITY OF CHRIST

As a Unitarian, Dave affirms that Jesus Christ is an exalted man in heaven, deputized by God to perform divine functions on his behalf. Thus, Jesus Christ is not really God at all. However, because he performs divine functions on God’s behalf, the Bible occasionally refers to Jesus as “God” in the sense of acknowledging him as God’s agent. Dave claims that the Bible speaks of other creatures as God’s agent in this way as well.

My case for believing that Jesus Christ is God, over against this Unitarian construct, rests on three main points: Christ’s preexistence, honors, and names.

Christ’s Divine Preexistence

The NT teaches in a variety of contexts that Jesus Christ preexisted his human life, especially in John (1:1-3, 9-10, 14-18; 8:56-59; 13:3; 16:28; 17:5), Paul (Rom. 8:3; 1 Cor. 10:4, 9; 2 Cor. 8:9; Gal. 4:4-6; Phil. 2:3-8; Col. 1:12-17), and Hebrews (1:1-3, 10-12; 2:17; 7:3; 10:5). We had the opportunity to discuss some of these passages in detail.

Galatians 4:4-6. Paul’s statement that in the fullness of time “God sent his Son, coming to be of a woman, coming to be under the Law” (Gal. 4:4) speaks of God’s Son as someone who already existed and then became a Jewish human being. In a comment on Galatians 4:4 responding to Dave, I pointed out four exegetical details in the passage that converge to show that this is the correct understanding of Paul’s statement.

Philippians 2:3-8. In Part 3, I made three key points in my brief discussion of Philippians 2 that support the conclusion that Paul there teaches the preexistence of Christ and that Dave completely side-stepped. (1) Paul uses Christ’s deference to God the Father as the ultimate illustration of a person treating an equal as someone more important than himself (vv. 3-5). This makes perfect sense if Christ was by rights equal with God but makes no sense if Christ is by rights not equal with God. (2) Christ existed in God’s form but took the form of a servant (vv. 6-7). I explained why this means that Christ existed in heaven in the glorious appearance of God but graciously took on the humble appearance of God’s servant. (3) Christ “emptied himself,” that is, humbly gave of himself, by “becoming in the likeness of human beings,” and he found himself in outward appearance as a man (v. 7). As I put it, “A human being cannot humble himself to become a human being because that is what he already and originally is. What Paul says here, then, must refer to Christ’s decision before the Incarnation to become a human being.” Dave failed to engage any of these arguments, and instead rather outrageously claimed that I “didn’t present any” evidence for my view. I reiterated these points and responded to Dave’s other criticisms in a detailed comment on Philippians 2.

All things created through Christ (John 1:3, 10; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). John, Paul, and Hebrews all teach that “all things” were created “through” the preexistent Jesus Christ (whom John calls the Logos and Paul and Hebrews call the Son and Lord). Dave’s strategy for handling the Pauline and Hebrews texts is to argue that “all things” (or “the ages” in Heb. 1:2) refers to the new creation that comes through Christ’s redemptive acts, not the original creation. I explained in a comment why this interpretive strategy will not work, comparing the language used for Christ’s role in creation to the language used for God’s role. In a comment on Hebrews 1:1-4, I also discussed the meaning of tous aiōnas (“the ages”) in Hebrews 1:2 and showed why it must also refer to the totality of creation. Dave had argued that when Hebrews 1:10-12 quotes Psalm 102:25-27 concerning the Lord creating the universe, it is referring to the Father rather than the Son. In my comment on Hebrews 1:5-13, I showed why that will not hold up exegetically and why Hebrews does apply that Psalm text to the Son.

Jesus is the Logos, who is God, incarnate (John 1:1-18). In Part 2, I laid out in summary form a Trinitarian understanding of this passage: the Logos, who was personally distinct from God and yet was God, became flesh as the human being Jesus Christ. Dave argued that John 1:1 means not that the Logos was “God” but that it was “divine,” and that the subject of John 1:1-3 is not Jesus (who is not mentioned there), but the impersonal Logos. Dave also proposed that John 1:10 should be exegeted to mean that the world “was split” or divided by Christ’s life and mission on earth.

In my first comment on John 1 in response, I pointed out that the omission of the name “Jesus” from John 1:1-3 is no more significant than its omission in Colossians 1:15-20 or Hebrews 1. In another comment on John 1, I showed that the Logos is a preexistent person and explained why John 1:10 must mean that the world “came into existence,” not “was split,” by Christ (a truly unprecedented and indefensible exegesis as far as I can tell). In a long comment on “God” in John 1:1c, I explained why the translation “the Word was divine” is simply untenable. As I showed in that comment, no major Bible version ever translates the nominative theos as “divine” in any other verse (LXX or NT), because it simply is not used with that adjectival meaning. The data overwhelmingly proves that “God” is the correct rendering.

Confusing preexistence with predestination? Dave argued that any NT passage that seems to describe Christ as preexistent is actually using language familiar in Judaism to speak of God foreknowing or predetermining his plans for human beings. According to Dave, this use of “preexistence” language is reflected in the Talmud and in texts that refer to God calling or preparing his prophets before they existed (e.g., Assumption of Moses 1:14; Jer. 1:5). Dave also quoted at length from Sigmund Mowinckel’s book He That Cometh to prove that in Jewish thought the Messiah was described as preexistent only in this predestinarian sense.

In my comment on preexistence in Talmudic Judaism, I showed that in general when the rabbis said that something existed or was created before the world, they meant it literally (e.g., Eden, Gehenna, the Torah). When they did not mean it literally, they typically said so (“Some of them were created, and some of them arose in the thought of God to be created”). The rabbis did not say that the Messiah preexisted but only that his name preexisted—a distinction that Dave’s argument overlooked. In my comment on prophetic calling texts, I pointed out that in such texts as Assumption of Moses 1:14 and Jeremiah 1:5 attribute no existence or activity to the prophet; they simply state that God prepared, designed, or predetermined that the prophet would serve in that calling. Finally, I showed in another comment that Dave had quoted Mowinckel out of context. Mowinckel shows that the Jewish “Son of Man” was a really (not ideally) pre-existent, heavenly, divine being. Thus, careful study of the Jewish background to the NT actually turns Dave’s argument on its head and shows that the NT preexistence language for Christ refers to him as a really preexistent divine person.

John 13:1-3 and 16:28. In John 13:1-3, John tells us that Jesus knew he had come from God and was going back to God. In John 16:28, Jesus asserts that he came from the Father into the world and was about to leave the world and go to the Father. As I explained in Part 4, since Biblical Unitarians agree that Jesus literally left the world and went to the Father, they cannot plausibly deny that these verses mean that Jesus literally left the Father to come into the world. Furthermore, the disciples acknowledge immediately after Jesus’ statement that he was not speaking figuratively (John 16:29)! These statements prove that Christ literally preexisted his human life.

Christ’s Divine Honors

The NT reveals that the Son is the proper recipient or object of worship, prayer, spiritual singing, fear (reverence), absolute love, and other honors that in a religious context all belong only to God (e.g., Matt. 9:28; 10:37; 14:33; 28:17; John 5:23; 8:24; 14:1, 14-15; Acts 1:24-25; 7:59-60; 16:31; Rom. 10:11-13; 1 Cor. 1:2; 10:16-22; 16:22; 2 Cor. 5:10-11; 12:7-9; Eph. 5:19-21; 6:24; Phil. 2:10-11; Col. 3:22-25; Heb. 1:6; 1 Peter 2:6; 3:14-16; 1 John 5:13-15; Rev. 5:9-14; 22:1-3, 20-21). The hypothetical construct that he is God’s human agent simply does not account for this unreserved showering of divine honors on Christ.

The divine honors that Dave and I discussed were prayer to and worship of Christ. In a comment on Romans 10:9-13, I showed, contrary to Dave’s objection, that “calling upon the name of the Lord” does mean praying, and that the NT instructs us to direct this activity toward Jesus Christ. I also argued that in order for Jesus to attend to any and all prayers directed his way, he must know what is in the hearts of all people at all times. This means that he needs to have the divine nature commensurate to the task.

Regarding the worship of Christ, Dave argued that the Greek word for worship (proskuneō) need not imply that Christ is God, since human beings in the Bible sometimes “bow down” (proskuneō) to other human beings. The problem is that the contexts in which the exalted Christ receives worship are clearly religious contexts. The disciples worship the risen Christ on the mountain (Matt. 28:17); if Christ was only an exalted man, would this not be like the Israelites worshipping Moses when they should have been worshipping God? In Part 2, I argued that the surrounding context of this worship makes it a religious act, and in a follow-up comment I defended this interpretation. In that same comment, I also responded to the argument from silence that the Bible never refers to Christ as the object of actions described using the latreuō or sebomai word groups. Hebrews 1:6 reveals that the angels also worship Christ, quoting an OT text (probably Deut. 32:43) in which God was the object of their worship. (In my follow-up comment on Hebrews 1:5-13, I briefly discussed some problems with Dave’s claim that Israel, not God, was the object of angelic worship in Deuteronomy 32:43.) In a later comment on Revelation 4-5, I gave four reasons why the worship that the Lamb receives in Revelation 5 must be regarded as the highest act of religious worship.

Christ’s Divine Names

The third major line of evidence for the eternal deity of Christ that I discussed in this debate is his divine names or titles.

While the Greek word kurios could mean simply “master,” in religious contexts quoting from or alluding to OT texts and motifs the term stands for the Hebrew name Yahweh (“Jehovah” or “the LORD”), which was the distinctive name of God in the OT. Examples of the NT calling Jesus “Lord” where this clearly means the LORD Jehovah are too numerous to dismiss. In addition to 1 Corinthians 8:6, I drew special attention to Romans 10:9-13 and Philippians 2:9-11 as examples in Part 3 of this debate (see also the follow-up comments on Romans 10:9-13 and Philippians 2:3-11). My treatment of 1 Corinthians 8:6 included a paragraph summarizing the evidence that Paul referred to Jesus as the LORD Jehovah repeatedly in 1 Corinthians. For example, Paul uses the expressions “calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” and “the day of the Lord Jesus Christ,” two allusions to Joel 2:31-32, in the same context (1 Cor. 1:2, 8).

Although the number of texts that call Jesus “God” is comparatively few, they are potent in theological significance. I have already explained why John 1:1c (“and the Logos was God”) refers to the preincarnate Christ and identifies him as “God” (not describe an impersonal “logos” as “divine”). Dave acknowledges that Hebrews 1:8 refers to Jesus as “God,” and I explained (again in Part 3) why this reference cannot be explained away as meaning only that Jesus was God’s agent. Most difficult for the Unitarian position, however, is John 20:28, where Thomas confessed Jesus as “my Lord and my God!” Dave admitted that Thomas called Jesus “God” but supposed it was sufficient to point out that the Bible occasionally calls angels or people theoi. However, as I pointed out in a follow-up comment on John 20:28, Thomas did not simply refer to Jesus as “God” (or “god”); he called him “my God.” That is something no faithful Jew would ever call any creature. I documented in that comment that the OT is filled with over a thousand parallel expressions (“my God,” “our God,” “your God,” etc.), and in none of them is anyone or anything approvingly given such a designation. This is compelling evidence that John 20:28 refers to Jesus Christ as the LORD God.

Jesus has other divine titles, including “Savior” as a divine title and the parallel, exclusive divine titles “the First and the Last” and “the Alpha and the Omega” in Revelation. The cumulative weight of all this evidence is just too much to explain it all away.

Jesus: Super Agent Man?

In order to make sense of the divine names, honors, position, and works of the exalted Christ, Unitarianism postulates a principle of agency according to which Jesus bears those names, receives those honors, holds that position, and performs those works simply as God’s exalted human agent. Jesus’ statement, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives not me but the one who sent me” (Matt. 10:40), is the primary proof text for this supposedly “Jewish” principle or law of agency. It supposedly proves, as Dave quoted James McGrath as asserting, that the agent was “functionally equal or equivalent to the one who sent him” (Only True God, 62).

As I explained in a comment on the principle of agency, neither Matthew 10:40 nor the rabbinical literature attests to such a principle in the broad way that Dave and McGrath seek to employ it. The actual principle was a simple matter of receiving a messenger’s message as coming from the one who sent him. Neither Jews nor Christians employed this principle, for example, to mean that humans might worship, serve, or pray to angels. The very Christian text Dave quoted, Didache 11.4, illustrates the limited focus of the agency principle, as it instructs Christians to welcome apostles for one or two days as they would the Lord—and after that to regard them as false prophets seeking to exploit Christian hospitality! In the same comment, I responded to Dave’s list of biblical examples of the agency principle, showing that they do not exemplify the assignment of divine powers or privileges to creatures as God’s agents.

The theological construct that Christ bears the divine names “God” and “Lord” merely as God’s agent falls to pieces when we recognize that Christ was “God” before creation (John 1:1) and was performing divine functions before anyone else existed—and therefore before there was anyone to whom he might come as God’s agent. We should therefore take the NT at its word when it affirms that Jesus is our God, the LORD himself.

WITNESS OF THE PARACLETE: THE CASE FOR THE PERSONHOOD OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Due to space limitations, I will have to be much briefer in reviewing the case for the personhood of the Holy Spirit. In general, my argument in Part 4 for the personhood of the Holy Spirit anticipated and refuted in advance Dave’s main arguments against this aspect of the doctrine of the Trinity. The simplistic argument that Luke 1:35 defines the Holy Spirit as the power of God is fallacious, as a comparison with such texts as Luke 22:69 (in the same book!) or 1 Corinthians 1:24, where the Father and the Son are also both called “the power of God,” makes clear.

There is some basis in the OT for viewing the Spirit of the LORD as a divine person. However, the fact that the Holy Spirit was a person distinct from the Father and the Son could not be and was not revealed explicitly until the Son had come to reveal the Father (Matt. 11:27; John 1:18) and was preparing to leave the disciples in the custody of the Holy Spirit. Such explicit revelation of the distinct person of the Holy Spirit is a major theme in the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16). Jesus introduces the figure of the Paraclete (“Comforter,” “Advocate,” etc.) in the context of his leaving the disciples to return to the Father (John 13:1-3; 16:5-7, 28). When he leaves them, Jesus says, he will send “another Paraclete,” the Holy Spirit, to them—who will be someone like Jesus himself (cf. 1 John 2:1). The narrative context in which Jesus says these things as he prepares them for his departure rules out the notion that this is mere personification.

The Book of Acts confirms this conclusion. The Holy Spirit appears in the narrative at the very beginning and end of the book (1:2; 28:25-26) to mark him as the book’s primary witness, just as Luke had mentioned Simon Peter as the first and last named disciple in his Gospel (Luke 4:38; 24:34) because that book derived primarily from Peter’s eyewitness testimony. Acts also presents the Holy Spirit as a participant at key points throughout the book. The “personal” language in Acts about the Spirit speaking, being lied to, thinking, testifying, etc., is not personification, because it is integrated into a historical narrative account in which the Holy Spirit is a major participant and witness.

By contrast, the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs 8 takes place in the literary context of a poetic book of wisdom literature, not a historical narrative. Dave’s attempt to argue that if we don’t view wisdom as a person neither should we view the Holy Spirit as one ignores these genre and contextual differences, as I explained in a comment on personification.

The evidence for the personhood of the Holy Spirit, already quite substantial from John and Acts, is augmented and broadened when we look at the many instances of triadic statements about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the NT. I looked at a dozen major examples of these triadic statements in Part 5. These triadic statements provide further confirmation of the distinct person of the Holy Spirit, and testify to a threefoldness of Christian piety woven throughout the NT.

CONCLUSION: THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY IS BIBLICALLY GROUNDED

I have argued that the Son truly is the LORD God and that the Holy Spirit is a person distinct from the Father and the Son. I conclude, then, that the evidence presented here shows that the Trinity is biblically grounded in a way that Unitarianism is not.

Ironically, if the apostles did teach Unitarianism, their understanding of Christianity completely and suddenly disappeared after the passing of the apostles. As I pointed out to Dave in a comment on early Trinitarianism, historians find no trace of any religious movement even remotely akin to Unitarianism in the second or third centuries. On the other hand, the ante-Nicene Fathers were roughly or rudely trinitarian in their theology. This historical evidence provides significant confirmation that the Trinitarian reading of the NT is correct.

166 Responses to “The Great Trinity Debate, Part 6: Rob Bowman’s Closing Statement”

  1. I would have expected the claim that worship is never directed to God’s agent to have included a discussion of 1 Chronicles 29:20, where the people are said to worship (i.e. prostrate themselves to) God and the king – one verb, two objects.

  2. What happened to Burke’s closing statement? It seems to be gone from the blog.

  3. It’s up now. Our apologies for the technical error.

  4. I think 1 Chronicles 29:20 suggests that there is evidence within the Bible (never mind outside it) that you are neglecting. If that isn’t an example of an agent (the king) being worshipped alongside God, then what is it?

  5. By the way, folks, feel free to ask Dave or me any questions that you like. The floor is now open to discussion.

  6. Patrick Navas May 25, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    Rob,

    Assuming the doctrine of the Trinity is true and central to the Christian religion (that Jesus and his apostles believed it), why do you think they “held back” from teaching it to us in a clear/straightfoward/explicit way, as they did so many other doctrines they believed to be important?

    Examples of clear/straightforward/explicit teachings: God is one. God is holy. God is light. God is love. YHWH is God’s name. God created heaven and earth. Jesus died for our sins. God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus sits at the right hand of God. Jesus was given all authority in heaven and on earth. God exalted Jesus. God made Jesus Lord and Messiah. Jesus is the Christ/Messiah and Son of God. The Father is greater than Jesus. Greatest commandments: Love God and love neighbor.

    What I mean is, do you ever wonder why Paul didn’t say something like, “To us there is one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons, one essence.” If that is what Paul believed (and wanted us to believe), why do you think he said something different? Why did he speak of the Lord Jesus in this text as someone other than (or distinct from) the “one God” (in a similar way that Jesus presented himself plainly as someone other than ‘the only true God’ in John 17:3)?

    Or how about… “You have heard it was said, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.’ But I say to you, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one being yet three persons” or something to that effect?,

    Have you ever thought about how if Scripture actually taught the Trinity (in the same straightforward way it teaches other important doctrines), that this debate would probably not exist among Bible believers?

    Patrick Navas

  7. Patrick Navas May 25, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    Forgive me. I meant to also ask, do you not find it surprising/odd (on any level) that the alleged “central” doctrine of Christianity was not plainly and continuously taught by its founder (Jesus) or the founder’s representatives (the apostles)?

    Thanks again,

    Patrick

  8. Patrick: I’m curious—since you brought up the “clear/straightforward/explicit teaching” that “God is love”—how does that work out? What I mean is to ask is how do you know that God actually is love? And I’d also be curious to know whether or not you’d consider “love” to be an essential property or attribute of God. Thanks.

  9. Patrick,

    I think the Bible is very clear on the substantive issues:

    “My Lord and my God.”
    “I came down from heaven.”
    “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete.”
    “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
    “But of the Son [he says]…’You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands.'”

    Instead of addressing what the Bible does say, you want me to explain to you what the Bible does not say. There’s a term for this logical fallacy. I’m guessing you know what it is.

    Your question ignores the fact that there are so-called “Bible believers” who dispute or redefine away every doctrine of the Bible while professing to accept the Bible.

  10. James,

    You must think your argument from 1 Chronicles 29:20 is a powerful one, since you posted it twice. I have several points to make in response.

    1. Where did I say that “worship is never directed to God’s agent”? I agreed that “human beings in the Bible sometimes ‘bow down’ (proskuneō) to other human beings.” Would it make any sense for me to make that statement but exclude human beings who function as God’s agents? Of course not. I did say, “Neither Jews nor Christians employed this principle [of agency], for example, to mean that humans might worship, serve, or pray to angels.” Here, of course, I am using the term “worship” in a religious context in reference to human beings bowing down before angels or other supernatural beings as an act of religious devotion. My point is clear: the so-called principle of agency is not the broad principle that Dave claimed (or that you claim in your book).

    2. Nothing in the context of 1 Chronicles 29:20 supports understanding the act of bowing before David as an act of religious worship. Obviously, your point is that the one verb is used in reference to two objects, God and the king, and you think this somehow undermines all of the evidence for Christ’s deity from the multitudinous honors that the NT directs toward him. But please: David is by all accounts in this passage a mortal, ordinary man, possessing no divine traits; the passage gives him no divine names or titles (the text does not call him God, for example); and it does not credit him with performing such divine works as making the universe. Since people in that culture bowed before kings as an act of respect and performed the outwardly same action when they bowed toward God as an act of religious devotion, the one verb can do “double duty” in this context without anyone getting “confused.” By contrast, it is the context in which such NT texts as Matthew 28:17, Hebrews 1:6, and Revelation 5:13-14 speak of Jesus as the object of worship that leads orthodox Christians to view this worship as religious devotion.

    3. In the context of 1 Chronicles 29, David himself addresses the LORD God and praises him in the most exalted terms:

    “Blessed are You, O LORD God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name. But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You. For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope” (1 Chron. 29:10-15 NASB).

    Not only does David direct all of this religious honor to the LORD alone, but David also puts himself down as insignificant by comparison: “But who am I and who are my people…?” “Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope.” David here expresses that he and his fellow Israelites are nothing without God, that he personally should receive no credit for anything, and that he is as much without hope as the rest of the people apart from God.

    4.In the very verse that you quote, a clear distinction in honor is made between the honor given to God and that given to David:

    “Then David said to all the assembly, ‘Now bless the LORD your God.’ And all the assembly blessed the LORD, the God of their fathers, and bowed low and did homage to the LORD and to the king” (1 Chron. 29:20 NASB; “and bending their knees, they bowed low before the Lord and the king,” LXX).

    The act of “blessing the LORD their God” is in this context an act of religious devotion (the word “bless” has already been used in this sense in verse 10), and it is used in reference to the LORD alone.

    5.The Book of Revelation uses the doxological language of this passage (which Chronicles uses exclusively for the LORD God) and applies it equally to both “God and the Lamb” (cf. 1 Chron. 29:11-12 with Rev. 5:12-13). I discuss this point at some length in Putting Jesus in His Place (32-35).

    All in all, this passage in 1 Chronicles 29 shows the clear limits within which a merely human king might receive honor in the same context as God, limits that the NT bursts in its honor of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  11. andrewneileen May 26, 2010 at 1:49 am

    Hello Rob,
    I will begin at the end, the last paragraph. My first question is: Is this true? Rabbinical Judaism was a religious movement alive in the 1c and 2c, and it is somewhat akin to Biblical Unitarianism. Isn’t the “separation of the ways” indicative of the church moving away from its Jewish roots and thereby, according to Jewish thinking, becoming apostate in relation to its doctrine of God? Isn’t Biblical Unitarianism an attempt to repair the breech with a “Jewish Christianity”? My second question is: Is this true? Unitarianism pertains to the doctrine of God and is not co-terminus with “Christianity”: if the apostles taught Unitarianism, and the church became Trinitarian, this doesn’t amount to the complete and sudden disappearance of Christianity. Isn’t “complete and sudden” an exaggeration? And couldn’t the church have continued to teach other apostolic doctrines, as in the case of, say, Justin Martyr? My third question is: Is this true? I have some historians’ works on my bookshelf and they have chapters on the ‘sub-apostolic age’ and the era of ‘The Apologists’ which document non-Trinitarian views in the church about Christ. For example, see J. Danielou, “The Theology of Jewish Christianity” and chap.2, pp. 55-87, which he entitles ‘Heterodox Jewish Christianity’ or W. Bauer, “Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity” and the Appendix entitled, ‘The Problem of Jewish Christianity’ pp. 247-285; (Bauer’s seminal thesis was that heresy was primary for large areas of the Near East in the earliest period of Christianity). These views dubbed “Jewish Christian” are somewhat akin to assert they are not remotely akin looks like hyperbole on your part. My fourth question is: Is this true? Are the ante-Nicene fathers all treatable as a group characterizable as rudely or roughly Trinitarian? For instance, given the minimal reference to the Spirit in the Nicene Creed, and the fluctuation of the Eastern…

  12. andrewneileen May 26, 2010 at 1:52 am

    …For instance, given the minimal reference to the Spirit in the Nicene Creed, and the fluctuation of the Eastern Church fathers between Trinitarianism and Arianism in the 4c., up until 381, can we be so sweeping in our judgment that the ante-Nicene fathers even had a Trinitarian conception of the Spirit, rude or rough, all of them? Finally, to sum up, if your statements in just your last paragraph are not true, how can we on the “floor” of the debate work our way backwards and even begin to ask the right questions when you have written so much that is questionable? What in your view is your strongest argument? Perhaps we could start there?

    3000 characters is not much.

  13. Man was created in the image of God, trinitarians have created God in the image of man.(angels too)

    Who was it that put Moses in the cleft of the rock and passed by while putting his hand over the slit so Moses could not see his face but only his back parts?

    That was YHVH, the God of Israel. The one in whose image Jesus, his son, was made. The One whom no man has seen nor can see.

    There would be no need for debates amongst Christians about who the One True God is if they would understand that God is spirit, as are the angels, as is the resurrected Christ, and as the resurrected saints shall be.

    News Flash! they all have bodies

  14. Thomas Gaston May 26, 2010 at 3:41 am

    We must be cautious of an argument from history for two reasons. Firstly, we must acknowledge that the extant sources are biased towards the Trinitarian understanding. Why is it that figures like Justin, Irenaeus and Tertullian had their works preserved for posterity but their contemporaries did not? Because their writings could be reconciled easiest by later Trinitarians with their own understanding. Secondly, human beings have a dangerous habit of reading back into history modern views and attitudes. In this case, any reference to “three” or just a conjunction of Father-Son-Spirit is taken as proof of primitive Trinitarianism, often without much analysis as to what it is these thinkers actually believers.

    For example, though Justin enumerates God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as three things, he uses ordinals (first, second, third). A clear hierarchy. Irenaeus does treat God-Jesus-Spirit as three articles of faith but he never calls the Spirit “Lord”. Tertullian did argue that God was one “substantia” but three “persona” but many scholars now believe that “substantia” was used in its legal, and not in an ontological, sense.

    Writers before Justin do not enumerate God, or give any particular hint of a formalised Trinitarian belief but since they don’t argue against that belief either they are accepted as “orthodox”. Yet a Biblical Unitarian can read Clement of Rome, or Polycarp, or Aristides and agree whole-heartedly. So when asking for evidence of historical biblical unitarianism, what is really being asked for? It seems like we’re being asked to provide evidence that historical figures wrote against a doctrine that didn’t exist at that time for them to write against. In this sense the “historical” argument is self-defeating.

  15. Thomas Gaston May 26, 2010 at 3:51 am

    The more interesting historical question is why does Justin in the mid-second century start enumerating God-Jesus-Spirit into a divine hierarchy? Why does he identify Jesus as a necessary metaphysical intermediary between a transcendent God and the world?

    Is it just possible that he may have taken these ideas from contemporary Platonists, like Numenius of Apamea, who were enumerating three gods, with a transcendent first diety, a metaphysical intermediary, and a third psychical god?

    And if it is the case that this “triadic” language emerged in Christian writings in direct consequence to Platonic speculations then what does that tell you about the Christian doctrine of God in writers post-Justin?

  16. First of all I would like to thank you the both of you for a wonderful debate. I must say that the interaction between the two of you in the comment-sections has been exciting to say the least. :-)

    You won this debate by far, Bowman. And since I myself am a Trinitarian I can not possible be biased. ;-)

    Anyway, I have a question for you Bowman: You argue that kurios = adonai = YHWH, so when the title kurios is applied to Jesus it is used as the substitute for the tetragrammaton, am I correct? But if so, how do you explain the attachment of possessive pronouns to kurios? Never in the LXX is YHWH referred to as “our Lord” or “my Lord”, but simply kurios. Would you say that the reason for the “our Lord”-language of Jesus is because the YHWH substitute has evolved “completely” into a title? But if so is it not interesting that the NT authors never applies kurios to the Father using possessive pronouns (For example Luk 1-2, and Luke uses “my Lord” of Jesus) . Perhaps this is to distinguish between the two? Or is this a evidence for that “our/my Lord” should be read solely in the light of ‘adoni from Psalm 110? (even then explain away texts such as Rom 10:9-13 as mere texts of agency)… I’m having a hard time formulating my question, so I’ll just shut up now. ;)

    Blessings from Sweden
    Your brother in the Lord Jesus, our God and Savior.
    Pär

  17. Patrick Navas May 26, 2010 at 7:42 am

    Rob,

    I had a feeling you would not answer my question. I’m asking honestly, and I’ll ask again. For the sake of argument, let’s say the Trinity is true. From your perspective, why didn’t Jesus or the apostles simply teach/proclaim the doctrine clearly and directly. Did they deliberately avoid teaching it directly, for some reason? If so, why? Perhaps another Trinitarian apologist could answer this if Rob wont.

    Nick,

    You asked:

    “I’m curious—since you brought up the “clear/straightforward/explicit teaching” that “God is love”—how does that work out? What I mean is to ask is how do you know that God actually is love?”

    Scripturally speaking, I know that God actually “is love” because the apostle John explicitly taught this doctrine in 1 John 4:8 and 1 John 4:16.

    You also asked, “how does this work out”? Well, scripturally speaking, I don’t need to explain it to accept that the Scripture explicitly teach it. But, to me, it means that God is loving, and that his loving nature is such a dominant aspect of his being, that the apostle John went as far as to say that God is love. John sheds light on this when he says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).

    And I’d also be curious to know whether or not you’d consider “love” to be an essential property or attribute of God.

    Yes. I believe that God created the world out of love and sent his Son Jesus because of it as well.

    Patrick

  18. Patrick: Thanks for the response. So if I understand you, you’re saying that you know God is love (1) because John said so, and (2) because that love is expressed in God creating the world and sending his Son to save it. Is this an accurate understanding of your belief?

    So if I could boil down #2, would it be fair to say that love is known through its expression?

  19. Rob, the first comment did not appear at first, and so I thought it had been lost in cyberspace. I didn’t think it deserved more than a single mention from me – but I did think it deserved some mention from you!

    I really am not clear on what your point is. Since I think a point we can agree on is that Jesus was a human being (whatever else some of us may wish to say about him), I don’t see how objections to worship of angels, but acceptance of worship before a human agent of God, has any relevance.

    As for your second point, I’d appreciate a clarification as to what distinguishes “religious worship” from other sorts of worship. If it is thinking of the one so revered as God, then surely it is a circular argument to claim divinity on the basis of worship and distinguish relevant worship on the basis of belief in divinity!

    It seems to me that “religious worship” could be defined as first and foremost sacrificial worship in an ancient context. That is offered to YHWH alone in the passage in Chronicles. But is Jesus the recipient of sacrificial worship in the New Testament?

    We may perhaps want to talk more about Revelation, but the idea of a human king sharing YHWH’s throne certainly seems to have a major point of overlap or connection with the passage in Chronicles, where Solomon sits on the throne of YHWH.

    Let me just add that, although I disagree with some of your points of interpretation, I do appreciate your taking the time to engage in this conversation publicly. Thank you!

  20. Patrick Navas May 26, 2010 at 10:29 am

    Nick,

    Thanks for the response. You wrote: “if I understand you, you’re saying that you know God is love (1) because John said so…”

    Yes, from a scriptural perspective, and because I accept the teaching authority of Jesus’ apostes, I “know” that the Scriptures teach that “God is love” because that is what Scripture explicitly teaches.

    “(2) because that love is expressed in God creating the world and sending his Son to save it. Is this an accurate understanding of your belief?”

    Yes, but these are just two outstanding examples of God’s love. But, of course, I believe that God’s love is manifested in so many other ways that Scripture makes clear and which reason confirms.

    “So if I could boil down #2, would it be fair to say that love is known through its expression?”

    Certainly. Again, from a scriptural perspective, we can be sure that “God is love” because Scripture clearly tells us this in plain language more than once. Not only that, but Scripture also shows this is true by revealing Jehovah as a God who lovingly gave us life and who lovingly sent his Son to rescue us from condemnation. So we have an explicit scriptural teaching backed up by God’s actions and everything else the Scripture reveals about God.

    The problem with the “God-is-three-persons” doctrine is that Scripture never plainly states this. But why would they not do this if that’s what the writers of Scripture believed and wanted us to believe? I don’t know if Rob will actually try to answer my question, so perhaps you could. It’s not a trick question but a real one.

    Assuming the doctrine of the Trinity is true (that Jesus and his apostles believed it), why do you think they held back or refrained from plainly teaching it to us as they did with every other important/essential/salvific doctrine? Did they do this on purpose in your view? If so, why?

    Best wishes,

    Patrick Nava

  21. Rob, the first comment did not appear at first, and so I thought it had been lost in cyberspace. I didn’t think it deserved more than a single mention from me – but I did think it deserved some mention from you!

    I really am not clear on what your point is. Since I think a point we can agree on is that Jesus was a human being (whatever else some of us may wish to say about him), I don’t see how objections to worship of angels, but acceptance of worship before a human agent of God, has any relevance.

    As for your second point, I’d appreciate a clarification as to what distinguishes “religious worship” from other sorts of worship. If it is thinking of the one so revered as God, then surely it is a circular argument to claim that belief in Jesus’ divinity is demonstrated by worship worship and distinguish relevant worship on the basis of belief in divinity!

    It seems to me that “religious worship” could be defined as first and foremost _sacrificial_ worship in an ancient context. That is offered to YHWH alone in the passage in Chronicles. But is Jesus the _recipient_ of sacrificial worship in the New Testament?

    We may perhaps want to talk more about Revelation, but the idea of a human king sharing YHWH’s throne certainly seems to have a major point of overlap or connection with the passage in Chronicles, where Solomon sits on the throne of YHWH.

    Let me just add that, although I disagree with some of your points of interpretation, I do appreciate your taking the time to engage in this conversation publicly. Thank you!

  22. Patrick: Okay, so it seems that we both agree on the following:

    (1) God is love.
    (2) Love is (I would say has to be; would you agree?) expressed
    (3) Love is essential to who God is.

    I think it would be safe to add a fourth point of agreement, but please, correct me if I’m wrong:

    (4) God is eternal.

    If we are in agreement on these points, as I believe we are, then my question would be: how can a Unitarian God account for this? It would seem that on a Unitarian understanding of God we’d have a God who is dependent upon his creation in order to be loving since love has to be expressed. But then wouldn’t God become love at a point in time? How can God be essentially love/loving with no one to love?

    As to your first question: I think Rob has made a successful case for the writers of Scripture plainly stating exactly what you’re asking for, i.e., that there are three persons who are God and that there is one God. As I see it, your real objection is that they don’t state it in either (a) language that you would personally like to see, or (b) the language of later Christian creeds. I think that (a) is answered in that the writers of the NT weren’t thinking about you or any future Unitarian when they wrote, and (b) is answered in the fact that Sabellians, Arians, Socinians and a whole host of other groups hadn’t yet created problems that needed addressing.

    As to your second question: I think it’s important to distinguish between teaching a formal doctrine of the Trinity and teaching about the Trinity. Again, I think Rob has done an excellent job of showing just how the NT writers spoke about the Trinity. That this teaching isn’t the later formal articulations of it only tells us that the NT is not the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed; that the NT is chronologically prior to the N-C Creed; but then none of this is news or cause for alarm.

  23. Nick, I think Patrick’s objection is that Jesus and his apostles didn’t state it in language that would (and should?) in reasonableness be expected if it were true. Like the language used by them to express other important or central teachings. This asks for an explanation, especially because the philosophy of God being three distinct persons in one being is such a major shift from what God’s people had understood for thousands of years up to then.

  24. rayner markley May 26, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Nick: ‘How can God be essentially love/loving with no one to love?’

    A trinitarian might say the Father always had the Son to love. It doesn’t make much sense to me; real love is expressed to someone outside of oneself. Love is creative by nature, and God’s love impulse may have been the reason for creation.

  25. Helez: “[L]anguage that would (and should?) in reasonableness be expected” seems quite subjective to be honest. What exactly would this language look like? I think it looks like what we find in the NT. I think Rob has done an admirable job of showing just that. It seems that Unitarians think it looks like what we find in later Christian creeds. I think that’s taking a backward approach to the issue.

    I also find it curious the way that people interpret certain statements or propositions in the Bible as “teachings” or “doctrines.” For example, when Moses penned Deut. 6:4 or Paul penned 1Cor. 8:6 they weren’t articulating any kind of advanced doctrines. yet somehow Unitarians read these statements (both of which are calls to faithfulness to God alone over and against idols) and see Moses and Paul as articulating some sort of Unitarian doctrine in which God is one and only one person. Now the Trinitarian could object and say, “why don’t we find language that would (and should?) in reasonableness be expected if this one-personed-God doctrine were true?” I mean no passage of Scripture explicitly teaches that God is “one person.” Many teach that God is “one God” but that’s something both Unitarians and Trinitarians agree on. Unitarians read and quote the same passages that Trinitarians do but both groups have to offer interpretations of what they’re reading and quoting and these interpretations go beyond what the passages merely state. Sadly, it seems to me that Unitarians of varying stripes don’t like to acknowledge this simple fact.

    Comment to be continued…

  26. …comment continued:

    Helez: Major shifts shouldn’t be a problem seeing as how a suffering and dying Messiah was a major shift from the conquering king Messiah that Jews had expected for more than a thousand years. In Matthew 16/Mark 8 Jesus tells the disciples that he must suffer and be killed yet Peter doesn’t want to accept this; but why? Because the Messiah he was expecting wasn’t supposed to suffer and die according to what Jews had traditionally believed. Jesus’ teaching was a radical shift. Doctrine develops; beliefs shift; articulations become more precise. Such is life.

    And let me add at this point that the Incarnation of the Son and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit necessitated a major shift in the Jewish view of God. Both events had God entering his creation in a more intimate and personal way than ever before. And it’s not inconceivable that Judaism had a conceptual framework that allowed for a doctrine of the Trinity. For example, Alan F. Segal says:

    Even the trinity can be shown to have some precedents in Judaism because, although the Christian notion of the Trinity is precisely formulated to fit Christian experience, it is possible to find Jewish writers who propounded that God could be perceived in many different forms, even at once. In fact, there were several important Jewish philosophical or mystical thinkers who speculated about the differences between the descriptions of God as a young warrior as opposed to an old man (e.g. Dan. 7: 9-13). So it is at least possible to find a clear precedent of hypostases within the Hebrew Godhead. (“The Incarnation: The Jewish Milieu” in The Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation [Oxford: OUP, 2002], 116; cf. Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol. 2: Theological Objections [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000], 3-48; J. C. O’Neill, Who Did Jesus Think He Was? [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995], 94-114, although I think O’Neill presses the evidence a bit too far when stating his conclusions.)

  27. Rayner: Why must real love be expressed to someone outside of oneself? It seems to me that love must only be expressed, period. But even on your reading you still come up with a God who is dependent upon his creation for an essential attribute. How could this “love impulse” have existed if it only exists in expression to one outside of oneself? As I see it, the Unitarian God is not essentially loving from all eternity, but rather undergoes some kind of change once it creates the universe and all that’s in it. The Unitarian God relies on its creation for one of its essential properties. This doesn’t seem compatible with Scripture.

  28. Patrick Navas May 26, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    Nick,
    You wrote:
    “If we are in agreement on these points, as I believe we are, then my question would be: how can a Unitarian God account for this? It would seem that on a Unitarian understanding of God we’d have a God who is dependent upon his creation in order to be loving since love has to be expressed. But then wouldn’t God become love at a point in time? How can God be essentially love/loving with no one to love?”
    The “one God,” the “Father” can be “love” and “loving” because there has always been someone for God to love (Himself). The Scriptures tell us that we should love our neighbor as we would ourselves. That is to say, scripturally speaking, there is a legitimate place for “self love” (Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9). We are to love our neighbor as we rightly “love ourselves.” Therefore, God, in whose image we are made, like us, can legitimately have self love. I also think that love was the motivating force behind God creating and giving life to others that could be the objects of his loving-kindness. In other words, God could have self love but his love is so abundant that he willingly created other beings and gave them life so that he could share his great love with them.
    The text I cited is not the only place in Scripture that speaks of self love. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote
    “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the congregation (Ephesians 5:28-29).”
    So the fairly common Trinitarian/philosophical argument that “for the eternal God to be love there must be personal distinctions within the Godhead to be objects of each others’ love” is not necessary from a Scriptural perspective, since God could still be love and be loving without having a “multi-personal” nature.
    “As to your first question: I think Rob has made a successful case for…

  29. rayner markley May 26, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    We love God; we love others. Self-love is unseemly. But that’s for us humans; maybe God is different.
    Do you deny that love is creative by nature?

  30. Patrick Navas May 27, 2010 at 12:01 am

    the writers of Scripture plainly stating exactly what you’re asking for, i.e., that there are three persons who are God and that there is one God. “
    What you’re saying here, unfortunately, misses the point and does not answer my question. As I clearly stated, let us assume, for argument’s sake, that the Trinity is true and was believed by Jesus and his apostles. Again, in your view (or in the view of any Trinitarian who would like to address this question), why did Jesus and the writers of Scripture hold back/refrain from teaching us the doctrine of the Trinity plainly and directly as they did with other important/salvific doctrines? Why did they hold back from plainly/straightforwardly telling us that the “one God” was a “Trinity (one being in three persons)”? Did they believe this yet refrain from teaching it directly for a reason?

    “As I see it, your real objection is that they don’t state it in either (a) language that you would personally like to see, or (b) the language of later Christian creeds.”
    That was not the issue I raised. The real question I am asking is that if Jesus and his apostles believed that the one God was “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (three persons, one God),” why, for example, did Paul not teach this when he had the opportunity to do so, as in 1 Cor. 8:6? If Jesus wanted us to believe in the Trinity or that he himself was “the only true God,” why did he speak in such a way that would make one think that he was someone other than (or distinct from) “the only true God” in John 17:3?
    “I think that (a) is answered in that the writers of the NT weren’t thinking about you or any future Unitarian when they wrote, and (b) is answered in the fact that Sabellians, Arians, Socinians and a whole host of other groups hadn’t yet created problems that needed addressing.”
    They didn’t have to think about the people you mentioned to positively teach a doctrine they believed. Nor did they have to merely…

  31. Patrick Navas May 27, 2010 at 12:03 am

    Nor did they have to merely respond to “problems” in order to clearly state doctrines they considered essential.
    Is there any Trinitarian following these discussions that’s willing to answer my question?
    Best wishes,
    Patrick Navas

  32. Patrick: I find it interesting that you reason from man to God, but then again, I think that’s one of the fatal flaws of Unitarianism in general. I think you’re interpretation is off however. Love for others as for ourselves is already grounded in our love for God. The “second” commandment is “like” the “first.” I also find it interesting how you freely use the adjective “Scriptural” to describe your belief that God is “self-loving” (although as a Trinitarian I actually affirm this since Father, Son, and Spirit are the same God) in spite of the fact that Scripture doesn’t actually articulate this. It seems that you take issue with Trinitarians doing things along these lines; why is that?

    And to repeat something I said to another commentator in one of these other posts: not receiving the answer you’d like is not the same thing as not receiving an answer. If you’d like to answer your own question to your satisfaction then you’re probably better off posing it to yourself. As it stands I was willing to answer it and I did exactly that. Also, as I mentioned to another commentator, I find it a bit peculiar how folks are willing to take bare statements or propositions and attribute full fledged doctrines to them. For example, you think that Paul is articulating some kind of doctrine in 1Cor. 8 when in context all he is doing is calling for faithfulness to God over and against idols (just as the Shema does). Yet for some reason Unitarians read these passages and see fully articulated expressions of Unitarianism where there’s is only one unipersonal God even though no such thing is explicitly stated. I could ask why Paul didn’t just come out and say that God is only one person in 1Cor. 8:6 when he had the opportunity to do so, but I don’t, since I don’t find that line of questioning very helpful.

    To be continued…

  33. …comment continued:

    When I read passages like 1Cor. 8:6 or John 17:3 I don’t read them in isolation. For example, I read 1Cor. 8:6 in the context of 1Cor. 8:1-10:22. I note that the overall argument that Paul is making concerns the Corinthians’ relation to God over and against idols and when he speaks of Christ’s relationship to believers he does it by drawing from OT concepts concerning Israel’s relationship to YHWH. So in 1Cor. 8:6 Paul identifies Jesus as YHWH by including him in the Shema and in 1Cor. 10:14-21 Jesus is contrasted with the pagan deities to whom sacrifice is offered, hence he functions in Paul’s mind as an object of worship in the same manner that the pagan deities do to the pagans. In John 17:3 I see something affirmed about the Father yet nothing denied of the Son. I also see that in context Jesus says that salvation is predicated on knowing both himself and the Father so that the understanding that we’re left with is that the Father alone is not enough for eternal life. I also see Jesus recounting the preexistent relationship that he had with the Father when he commands him to glorify him with the glory that they shared before the world existed. And finally, I don’t ask questions of the text that aren’t addressed by the text, such as “why didn’t Paul say something here that I think would have been the ideal place for him to say it?” I wonder, why didn’t Moses mention whether or not Adam and Eve had belly buttons when surely Genesis 2 would have been the perfect place for him to do so? ;-)

    To be continued…

  34. …comment continued:

    I think where the real problem lies is in your equation of your interpretation of Scripture with Scripture itself. Quoting passages of Scripture gets us nowhere. We all read and quote the same passages but we interpret them differently. What I find with many Unitarians is that they seem to deny this fact and act as if Trinitarians interpret and Unitarians just believe them for what they say. I happen to find Unitarian interpretations to be lacking and unconvincing. You obviously feel the same way about Trinitarian interpretations. I think the difference is that I, as a Trinitarian, can point out the shortcomings in the positive case presented by the Unitarian. From my reading of this debate and my interaction with Unitarians of various groups over the years it seems that they tend to rely on arguments from silence (as you do when you ask why Paul or anyone else didn’t say what you think should be said at an opportune time) rather than dealing with the positive case presented by the Trinitarian. Rob presented plenty of material in this debate for you to interact with and yet you chose a line of questioning in which you wanted him (or any other takers) to explain something that you think should be in the Bible but isn’t.

  35. Rob,
    Thanks for this debate, including your time (goes for Dave as well). It helped me understand how an orthodox Christian reads the Bible, and explains the Trinity.
    Dave mentioned “Hellenistic” a few times. I am sure you are aware the influence the Greek philosophers had after the apostles, hence their prominent place in the Vatican and making them equal to e.g. Abraham. Any child taught that “mummy is in heaven” is learning Plato’s view of an immortal spirit locked in the prison of the body. But the point I notice is not so much the ideas, but the thought process. Our western culture is based on Greek philosophy. The way we deduce and rationalise is based on that logic. When I solve mathematical equations I am using their logic. However, the Old Testament was written through Jews, and the way of thinking differs. In the next section I use Hellenistic as a Greek way of reasoning and Greek as a language. I therefore believe that Paul, John and the writer to the Hebrews were Jews, wrote Greek, but not based on Hellenistic concepts. The Jews typically present a whole picture, and they use pictures (rabbi’s still do), so parables, symbols, personification and types are typically something from Jewish thinking. Jewish thinking tends to be based on the purpose whereas Hellenistic thinking tends to describe the process. I understand a debate follows Hellenistic principles, but the subject matter (for me) is based on a Jewish way of thinking. I would like to give three examples from the verses used in your statements.

    Examples in next post

  36. Example 1

    The firstborn of creation (Col. 1:15). Dave assumes (if applied to the first creation) that would mean Jesus was created first. I am sure that is what the Greek word means. But in the Bible the picture is something else. Jacob wants to be firstborn (and God has planned it that way), Esau was indifferent. This is talking about heir to the promises. Have you noticed:
    Abraham’s firstborn was Isaac, his eldest Ishmael.
    Isaac’s firstborn was Jacob, his eldest was Esau.
    Jacob’s firstborn was Joseph, his eldest was Ruben (1 Chron 5:1)
    Joseph’s firstborn was Ephraim, his eldest was Manasseh.
    Four consecutive generations, just to make sure we notice the point.
    Under the law the Jews were not allowed to choose to avoid favouritism, but God chooses. If I look at Col. 1:15 I read “Christ as firstborn” with a Jewish view of the word. And yes, I agree it is talking about the first creation, but that is not limited to Genesis 1 as you pointed out with the use of thrones, dominions, authorities etc. Creation is ongoing. And of course not created by the firstborn (as Dave showed in post 8 of your week 3). But you use this verse regularly to prove Christ’s pre-existence.

  37. Example 2
    The rock in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:4). You use this regularly as a proof that Christ was there. Paul says: “They drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ”. I can just picture the Israelites looking around in amazement at this rock trundling behind them, and Moses telling them: the cloud in front is God the Father and that rock is God the Son. In a Hellenistic concept that might well be correct, but what is the Jew Paul seeing. He sees two cases of a rock providing water, one at the beginning of the journey and one at the end, and draws the picture of a rock as if it were following them. He is using the entire Exodus as a picture of the life of a believer, so he also compares the cloud and sea to baptism (but in reality only the Egyptians got covered in water Rob). So, yes, as the Jews had (as a figure) a rock following them providing water, so we have Christ. But I am sure you prefer the Hellenistic approach.

  38. Example 3
    Then John 1. Yes, the Hellenistic approach is to solve it the way I solve equations. If a = b, then I can replace a by b and solve it. So I can also replace “word” by “Christ” throughout the chapter and read it again to see if that solves it, and yes, that fits my explanation. I also realise the Greek connections to Logos. But I think John was a Jew without that Hellenistic logic. So “in the beginning” points immediately to Genesis 1 (the same first three words). In Genesis, I see the world created by a nine fold “Then God said”, and the statement about the word links clearly to that. Peter also uses it as a Jew (2 Pet. 3:5) like that. The biggest difference with other religions is that God wants to communicate with His creation. He calls us, and wants us to listen. Speaking and hearing is a major part of the Old Testament. His judgement is that the nation was deaf and blind. Gods word is a picture of His activity (thinking as a Jew) and as a Communicator. That is shown in Isaiah 55:11. Maybe with the Hellenistic thought process you also replace word by Christ in this verse, but I prefer the Jewish thought and that is what John is also doing. The first words in Genesis is the creation of light. Light is used as a picture throughout the Bible. It shows a knowledge of God where a world without God is in darkness (to walk in the light or walk in darkness). It is a picture used consistently. So I agree when you state that Dave cannot reject the “equation method” to understand “word”, but can use it for “light”. I use the “equation method” for neither, but see the Biblical picture of light. David could write that God’s word was a lamp for him to provide light. But of course Christ is the ultimate light, but also the word made flesh.

    These are three examples, but for me they show you want to read the OT with Hellenistic glasses. I prefer to start with Genesis and finish in Revelation.

  39. Mark: Re: #36 — I know you addressed your comments to Rob but I just wanted to note a couple of things. While discussing the distinction between the terms “Judaism” and “Hellenism” Martin Hengel said:

    This unavoidable distinction does, of course, pass too lightly over the fact that by the time of Jesus, Palestine had already been under ‘Hellenistic’ rule and its resultant cultural influence for some 360 years. Thus, even in Jewish Palestine, in the New Testament period Hellenistic civilization had a long and eventful history behind it. (Judaism and Hellenism, 1. 1)

    I think you’re probably making a sharper distinction between Jewish and Greek concepts than is actually warranted. This isn’t to say that there weren’t differences—of course there were—but Rob’s exegesis is closer to Paul, John, and the author of Hebrews than it is to Plato or Aristotle.

    Re: #37 — No, “firstborn” (πρωτότοκος) does not mean “created first.” πρωτότοκον in Heb. 1:6 and πρωτότοκος in Col. 1:15, 18 is a term of preeminence as can be seen from the context of both passages. In Hebrews the author established the Son’s superiority to angels and in Colossians Paul establishes Christ’s preeminence over the entire created order in all things. And this kind of use of πρωτότοκος is not unique to the NT. In the LXX (a Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) Manasseh is called Israel’s πρωτότοκος (Gen. 48:18) because he was physically born before Ephraim, but Jeremiah 31:9 (38:9 in the LXX) says that Ephraim is the πρωτότοκος because of his place of preeminence.

    Re: #38 & #39 — Interestingly enough, you seem to be employing a very allegorical method of interpretation in these comments, and as we know well, allegorical interpretations enjoyed great prominence in Greek thought.

  40. Nick,
    I am aware of the Helenistic influences, but I was referring to the Jewish thinking in Scripture which is not Helenistic, and the way Scripture is quoted.
    #37. Yes, you have made a good case for the Biblical usage of firstborn (as opposed to Helenistic), just in case my post was not clear. It fully supports my understanding of that verse. My point was that Dave was trying to say it meant first in time and Rob was using it to prove pre-existence. Do we agree that neither idea has much to do with what Paul is writing about?

  41. Patrick Navas May 27, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    Nick,

    You wrote:

    “I also find it interesting how you freely use the adjective “Scriptural” to describe your belief that God is “self-loving” (although as a Trinitarian I actually affirm this since Father, Son, and Spirit are the same God) in spite of the fact that Scripture doesn’t actually articulate this. It seems that you take issue with Trinitarians doing things along these lines; why is that?”

    I used the term “scriptural” to refer to the general scriptural concept/principle of “self-love” (‘…as you love yourself…’ Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; ‘husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it…’ Ephesians 5:28-29).

    This principle demonstrates that the common philosophical-trinitarian argument that says that in order for love to exist there must be, of necessity, another person/object to love. Therefore, since God is “eternal” and “is love,” God, logically speaking, must be “multi-personal” or else he would be dependent on creating someone in order to be “love” and loving, yet he has “eternally” been such. Therefore, Trinitarians tell us, since God is and always has been “love,” there must have been “personal distinctions” within the “Godhead” from all eternity, i.e., the three “persons” of the Trinity “eternally loved one another.”

    In response to your argument, I was not “reasoning-from-God-to-man” as much I was calling attention to the legitimate concept of “self-love” revealed in Scripture which shows that the common philosophical-trinitarian argument is not a logical necessity. Trinitarians are the ones who make this argument. I describe the argument as “philopshpical” because Scripture, of course, never presents us with this type of reasoning (nor does it, as you yourself acknowledge, articulate the notion that the ‘one God’ is a ‘Trinity’)…

  42. Patrick Navas May 27, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    The point I made about “self-love” is simply a response to the common philosophical-trinitarian argument. And it just so happens to be that—if we are going to take this kind of philosophical approach—that the only position that actually has some basis in Scripture is the one I presented, in response to the Trinitarian. A person can rightly love one’s self (this is not to say, of course, that Scripture advocates selfishness or self-pleasure at the expense of others). This is a scriptural principle because Scripture speaks of this more than once. It is also a quite valid and logical principle that we all know to be true based on our own personal experience in life. It is right that we “love ourselves.” We do it every day by feeding ourselves, giving ourselves rest, good hygiene, etc.

    Trinitarians have often argued that love must have another object/person in order for love to exist. Yet Scripture does not say this. The point being, I do not hold to some kind of formal doctrine of God’s “self-love” nor am I setting it up as some kind of essential doctrine in reference to God’s nature, as Trinitarians do regarding the “three persons of the Godhead.” It just happens to be that, on philosophical grounds, the point I’m making in response to the Trinitarian argument is the one that actually has a supporting principle in Scripture. The Trinitarian argument does not. It’s a simple point.

  43. Patrick Navas May 27, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    “And to repeat something I said to another commentator in one of these other posts: not receiving the answer you’d like is not the same thing as not receiving an answer.”

    You and Rob responded to my post but neither of you actually answered my simple/personal question. If the Trinity is true, why do you think the writers of Scripture didn’t present it to us in a formal statement of faith, as they did with every other important doctrine they believed and wanted us to believe? Why do you think they refrained from doing this in the case of the Trinity doctrine but did not do so with other important teachings? That’s all I’m asking.

    “I find it a bit peculiar how folks are willing to take bare statements or propositions and attribute full fledged doctrines to them.”

    With all due respect, this is an extremely bizarre statement. When I and others cite texts like John 17:3 or 1 Corinthians 8:6 (or any plain teaching of Scripture), we are not “attributing-full-fledged-doctrines-to them,” in the sense that we are somehow making something out of them that they are not. These doctrinal statements (and other statements like ‘Jesus is the Christ,’ ‘God raised Jesus from the dead,’ ‘God is love,’ etc.) are examples of the writers of Scripture themselves presenting to us “full fledged doctrines.” They are plain/formal statements of faith. All we are doing is calling attention to their plain and self-evident meaning. And it happens to be that none of the formal statements of Christian faith found in Scripture are actually Trinitarian (statements that teach that the one or only true God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit) but reveal that the one and only true God is the Father and that Jesus the Son is a distinct figure from “the only true God.”

  44. Patrick Navas May 27, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    “For example, you think that Paul is articulating some kind of doctrine in 1Cor. 8”

    The word “doctrine” simply means “teaching.” Contrary to what you say, Paul is most definitely articulating (reminding and calling attention to) the true Christian “doctrine” or “teaching” that although there may be many that are called “gods” and “lords” out the in the world, for Christians (‘to us’) there is “one God.” In this case, Paul formally teaches/reminds us that the “one God” is “the Father”—an example of authentic Christian doctrine. You (Trinitarians) say that the “one God” is “the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” something Paul did not ever say. We say that the “one God” is “the Father” because that is what Paul said. So it is definitely a problem for you when we actually have verses in Scripture that explicitly teach what we are defending when it comes to the identity/nature of the “one God,” yet you (Trinitarians) do not. Yet people are supposed to believe that your doctrine (something the Scripture never articulates) is more biblical than ours (something the Scripture explicitly articulates on more than one occasion), namely, that the one God is “the Father” and that Jesus is a distinct figure from this “one/only true God.”

    The other problem for Trinitarianism is that when Paul speaks about Jesus as our “one Lord” in 1 Cor 8:6, Paul is no longer speaking about the “one God” but a figure distinct from the “one God,” namely, our “one Lord” Jesus the Messiah. Somehow this fact is glossed over by Trinitarian apologists when they strangely try to merge Jesus and the Father into one single entity, in spite of the fact that Paul plainly speaks of two (‘one God’ and ‘one Lord’).

  45. Patrick Navas May 27, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    “when in context all he is doing is calling for faithfulness to God over and against idols (just as the Shema does). Yet for some reason Unitarians read these passages and see fully articulated expressions of Unitarianism where there’s is only one unipersonal God even though no such thing is explicitly stated.”

    Another bizarre and baffling statement. Christians rightly read this text and others like it as “fully articulated expressions” of the Christian doctrine of the one God’s identity. He is, for us, “the Father, out of whom are all things.” Paul explicitly states that the “one God” is “the Father” (one person, what Christians believe). He does not say that the “one God” is “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (three persons, what Trinitarians believe). And, for Paul, Jesus, our “one Lord,” was a distinct figure from this “one God.” Not because I say so but because Paul himself explicitly presented matters in this way.

    “I could ask why Paul didn’t just come out and say that God is only one person in 1Cor. 8:6 when he had the opportunity to do so, but I don’t, since I don’t find that line of questioning very helpful.”

    “…to us there is one God, the Father…” What else needs to be said?

    “When I read passages like 1Cor. 8:6 or John 17:3 I don’t read them in isolation.”

    Neither do I. In fact, that is why I know that calling Jesus “Lord” in 1 Cor. 8:6 does not mean or imply that he is himself “Jehovah,” the “one God.” Jesus is “Lord” because, as Scripture explicitly tells us, God (someone whom Jesus is not) “made” him to be such (Acts 2:36), and the authority intrinsic to Jesus’ “Lordship” is that which his God and Father has given to him, not something Scripture says he has eternally possessed as “God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.” All we need to do is let Scripture itself inform us regarding the sense in which Jesus is our “Lord.” Scripture is…

  46. Patrick Navas May 27, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    Scripture is not silent on this matter, but explicit. In addition, the Father (Jehovah) is specifically described in Scripture as “the God of our Lord Jesus…” (Ephesians 1:17). Are you and Rob going to argue that the Father is the “God of our Jehovah”? Is that what Trinitarianism teaches? Is that what the Bible teaches?

    “So in 1Cor. 8:6 Paul identifies Jesus as YHWH by including him in the Shema”

    Paul does not identify Jesus as YHWH by including him in the Shema in 1 Cor. 8:6. Paul could have very easily done so by saying, “God is one, and to us, there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are, and Jesus Christ, through whom all things are.” But Paul didn’t say anything like this. He never merged the identities of the Father and Son into one identity as “one God,” but unmistakably presented the “one God” as “the Father” (not the Trinity) and “Jesus Christ” as a distinct figure from the “one God,” in harmony with every other Scriptural statement.

    Not only does Paul not formally cite the Shema in this case (although he very well have been alluding to it in the preceding statement when he said that ‘God is one’), Paul explicitly identifies Jesus as our “one Lord” yet clearly portrays him as a “Lord” that is distinct from the “one God” (the God of the Shema who is ‘one’). “To us there is one God, the Father…and one Lord, Jesus Christ…”

  47. Patrick Navas May 27, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    When Paul uses the word “and” after his reference to the “one God,” this means (as if it really required explanation) he is going on to speak about someone distinct from, or in addition to, this “one God” (not someone who is also the ‘one God’), just as Jesus does in John 17:3 by presenting “the only true God” as a distinct figure from himself (‘their knowing you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’). Did Jesus not do this?

    In reference to 1 Cor. 8:6 you simply repeat the fallacious and bizarre argument of Rob Bowman:

    “Jesus is the “one Lord.” …I argued that Paul’s reference to that Father as the “one God” and Jesus as the “one Lord” both clearly allude to the Shema, so that the text identifies Jesus as the LORD himself.”

    Unfortunately, for Robert Bowman, Paul is not identifying Jesus as “the LORD/Jehovah” himself in this text. How do we know this? Because, as I already pointed out, when Paul speaks about Jesus as our “one Lord,” he is no longer talking about the “one God (= Jehovah).” The “one God” has already been identified. He is, for Paul, and “to us,” “the Father.” If we were to accept Bowman’s claim that Paul’s statement that Jesus is our “one Lord” means “one Jehovah,” then we have Paul telling us the baffling, unscriptural, non-monotheistic, unintelligible, and non-trinitarian statement: “To us there is one God, the Father…and one Jehovah, Jesus Christ.”

    How can Christian “monotheists” have a “one Jehovah” in addition to their “one God,” or a “one Jehovah” that is distinct from the “one God”? The God of the shema was not a “one Lord” or “one Jehovah” that was distinct from the “one God.”

  48. Patrick Navas May 27, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    So the meaning that Rob wants to give the term “Lord” in this case is (1) not even an intelligible statement; (2) does not even come close to articulating a Trinitarian doctrine of the “one God”, and (3) it is clearly not what Paul means since, in the context, Paul is talking about many “gods” and many “lords” not many “gods” and many “jehovahs” and contrasting this with the Christian belief that there is only one God and one Lord.

    The point, for Paul at least, is that even though the surrounding world recognizes a multitude of “gods” and “lords,” Christians only recognize one “God” and one “Lord,” not “one God” and “one Jehovah.”

    That is, Paul clearly contrasts the belief of the surrounding world with Christian belief in reference to two specific categories: (1) “gods,” and (2) “lords.” Whereas the world has many “gods” and many “lords,” Christians only have one God (the Father) and one Lord (Jesus).

    Scripturally speaking, Christians recognize Jesus as our “one Lord” because he’s the only one (the long-awaited Messiah) whom God has appointed to that status over us. He is the only one to whom the “one God” has given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18), the only one whom “the only true God” has given “authority over all flesh” (John 17:2), and the only one God has made to be the “head” of the “congregation” (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23). That is to say, Jesus is “Lord” because the one “God” made him to be such (Acts 2:36), not because I say so but because Scripture explicitly tells us so. Jesus has his authoritative/honorific status (‘Lord of all’) because he has been appointed to that authoritative/honorific status by the one God, his Father, because of his faithfulness to God as God’s “beloved Son” with whom God is “well pleased” (Matthew 3:17) since he “always” did the things that were pleasing to him (John 8:29).

  49. Patrick Navas May 27, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Rob also tries to argue:

    “Against Dave’s objection that Paul’s use of the words “one God” exclusively for the Father disproves the Trinitarian claim that Jesus is God, I explained in an important rebuttal comment that this objection confuses vocabulary with meaning. 1 Corinthians 8:6 no more denies that Jesus is God than it denies that the Father is Lord.”

    Rob’s argument is utterly fallacious. Why? Because the point is that Paul explicitly teaches what we are teaching. Actually, it is the other way around, we teach that the one God is “the Father” because we learned it from Paul and from Jesus, the Father’s Son. The Father, Jehovah, is the sovereign “Lord” because he created all things and rules over all. But he is, in fact, not the “one Lord” of 1 Cor. 8:6 who was “made Lord” by someone who is “greater” than himself, as Jesus was. Jesus is our “one Lord” in that specific sense. The Father is not. Jesus’ status as “Lord” in Scripture does not mean he is “ontologically Jehovah.” How do we know this? For many reasons: First, Jesus is “Lord” because he was made to be such. It is a status that was given to him by God. Secondly, the Father is described as “the God of our Lord Jesus…” The Father cannot be “the God of our Jehovah” because it is impossible for “Jehovah” to have one who is God to him, since he is the “Most High God.” If I remember correctly, a while back in one of my discussions with Bowman, he actually tried to argue that the reference to Jesus as our “one Lord” in 1 Cor. 8:6 meant that he was somehow “Lord” in a different way than he is “Lord” in Acts 2:37 where he is explicitly said to have been “made Lord” by God, simply because the term “Lord” in this case was not accompanied by the modifier “one.” That is like arguing that the word “God” in this text has a different meaning or referent in mind than 1 Cor. 8:6 because it is not prefaced by the…

  50. Patrick Navas May 27, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    because it is not prefaced by the modifier “one.” But the “one God” of 1 Cor. 8:6 is clearly the same “God” of Acts 2:36 who made Jesus “Lord,” just as the “one Lord” of 1 Cor. 8:6 is the same “Lord” of Acts 2:36, namely, Jesus, the one who was “made” Lord by the one God.

    “In John 17:3 I see something affirmed about the Father yet nothing denied of the Son.”

    That is comparable to reading the following statement…

    “To truly experience what our government represents, you must meet the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and you must meet the one he sent, the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.”

    …and then arguing, “In the above sentence, I see something affirmed about Barack Obama (namely, that he is ‘the President of the United States’), yet nothing denied of Hillary Clinton (that is, that she is not ‘the President of the United States’).”

    In the above sentence the speaker does not have to make it a point to deny that Hillary Clinton is “the President of the United States” because it is self-evident and intrinsic to the language used—a logical necessity. The logic could not be more basic. Hillary Clinton cannot be the “President of the United States” because she is the “Secretary of State” who is distinct from “the President of the United States” (Barack Obama) and was “sent” by “the President of the United States.” It simply goes without saying that she is not “the President of the United States.”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Great Trinity Debate (Comments Part 6) « The Prodigal Thought - May 26, 2010

    […] over at Parchment & Pen. The sixth installment of Bowman, the Trinitarian, can be read here and Burke’s, the Unitarian, can be found here. Or, if you would like to find all articles at […]

  2. trinities - SCORING THE BURKE – BOWMAN DEBATE – ROUND 6 Part 2 – Bowman (DALE) - June 2, 2010

    […] his sixth and final installment of the debate, Bowman turns in his finest performance, making a number of interesting moves, and […]

  3. trinities - June 3, 2010

    SCORING THE BURKE – BOWMAN DEBATE – Final Reflections (DALE)…

    Congratulations to both debaters on a fight well fought. (Here’s all the commentary.) Plenty of punches, thrown hard, relatively few low blows – two worthy opponents. Certainly, the fight must be decided on points, as there was no decisive …