Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Trinity and why it is a big issue

Bobby asked me a really good question - Why do I think that the Trinity is such a big issue?

It was never my intention that this blog should be a forum for discussing such a topic but, given the fact that Unitarians have had an historic link with universalism, I guess it was inevitable.

To start, I think that it is important to point out that all the Christian thinkers who thrashed out the doctrine of the Trinity from 2nd to 5th centuries did not think that they were 'inventing' new truths or adding to revelation. They were simply seeking to find ways of doing justice to the divine self-revelation testified to in Scripture. They wanted to preserve the fine balances required to appreciate the God revealed in Christ. Indeed, for them the debate was never about abstract and irrelevant theological talk - though it may look that way to us at first glance - it was always about the God of the gospel.

I personally take the Christian tradition very seriously and in my view the fact that the ecumenical creeds have governed Christian belief in all three major streams of the Church for centuries gives them prima facie authority. As Christians we'd need very strong reasons to reject them. So I am not starting from a neutral place in this discussion.

Is the idea biblical? Some people never tire of pointing out that the word "Trinity" does not occur in the Bible. But that is simply irrelevant. If the concept is the best way of doing justice to biblical revelation then the Trinity is biblical even if the word is a later label used for convenience.

Where to start? I simply intend to make a few, simple and provisional remarks as the topic is VAST!

All the early Christians were good monotheistic Jews. For them there was one God and to worship any other deity was to commit the primal sin of idolatry. But here's the funny thing: As far as we can tell from the extant evidence the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus offered to their Messiah the worship due to God alone and they did not think that in so doing they were compromising their monotheism. (Richard Bauckham's book God Crucified and Larry Hurtado's book Lord Jesus Christ explore this issue at length).

Worship of Christ goes back to the earliest levels of the tradition that we can access. Given the robust monotheism of those who worshipped Jesus this is an extraordinary fact that needs accounting for. How could solid monotheistic Jews worship Jesus in good conscience?

In early Christian worship and theology Jesus was approached as the one though whom God made all created things (e.g., Jn 1:3; Col 1:16); the one who sits upon the very same throne as God (e.g. Rev 22:3); the one who receives the worship of God (e.g., Phil 2:10-11, note the allusion to Isa 45:23); as one who bears God's own name (Phil 2:9); as one who is even called "God"on occasion (e.g., Jn 20:28; Heb 1:8). Old Testament texts about YHWH are applied to Jesus (e.g., Isa 45:23 in Phil 2:10-11 or Ps 45:6-7 in Heb 1:8). Jesus' human body is the divine temple in which the very glory of God dwells (Jn 1:14). And so on and so forth. If Jesus did not participate in the identity of the one God of Israel then all this was idolatry.

And yet the early Christians were very clear that Jesus' identification with YHWH was not such that Jesus was identical with his Father in heaven. God (the Father) created all things through his Word (1 Cor 8:6 - which, incidentally, is a Christian expansion of the Jewish shema from Deut 6:4); the throne in heaven is "the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Rev 22:3); and when Jesus prayed to his Father in heaven he was not talking to himself.

So in the very earliest Christian responses to God in the light of the Christ-event we find a tension. Jesus shares in the identity of Israel's one God and yet is not identical with the Father. Trinitarian theology is the attempt to clarify this tension and to guard it again those who would deny the deity of Christ (Arianism) and those who would say that Jesus and the Father are the same 'Person' in different disguises (Modalism). It also guards against a whole range of other unbalancing theologies. The aim is not to explain God or to put God in a box and understand him. God is mysterious - and this assertion is not an attempt to dodge hard philosophical issues but a simple admission that God's bigger than our little brains. The aim of the systematic formulations of Trinitarian theology is to protect certain fundamental Christian claims about God and the gospel from being lost. It is to preserve the delecate balances of the divine self-revelation.

A similar process took place with the Holy Spirit after the controversies over the person of Christ had died down. Perhaps people might like to pick that up in conversations (this blog does not wish to outstay its welcome).

But it is not just a matter about how to interpret certain texts. Issues surrounding the deity of Christ had theological import.

All of the Father's interaction with the universe - from creation through to new creation - is mediated through the Son and in the Spirit. If Son and Spirit are creatures (even highly exalted creatures) then God has no direct contact with his universe at all. God disappears off into the distance leaving us to engage with super-beings (the Son and the Spirit) instead. But Trinitarian theology, by insisting that Son and Spirit participate in the identity of the one God, puts God right at the heart of all creative and redemptive action. When Christ is saving us from sin God is saving us from sin. When Christ is with us God is with us. When the Spirit draws us through Christ to the Father God is drawing us through God to God. It's God all the way down.

Of course, please do not think I underplay the humanity of Christ - it is simply that this post is not on that issue. Christ is able to fully save us because he is divine but he is able to save us because he is fully human and can represent humanity.

Universalism does not require Trinitarian theology (it does not even require theistic theology). Christian universalism, I think, does. I know that in saying this I will anger a whole load of blog readers. Oh well. I'm getting used to upsetting people.


Jason Pratt said...

No dissension here. {s}

While I think the Fathers were in fact trying to understand and explain God, more than they sometimes let on, the 'negative theology' aspect of the process highlights the historical fact that they were trying to incorporate (no pun intended) all the scriptural data--whether or not they thought it made sense.

An argument could be attempted, that because they often weren't trying to understand the data, they ended up misunderstanding the data (though often they were trying to understand the data, too). But no one familiar with the actual history of the church can coherently argue or even factually assert that they weren't constantly concerned with scripturally defending the results they thought they were finding. (And using metaphysical logic, too, tacitly or explicitly, on a similarly constant basis.)

Whether it was good or bad reasoning, at any of several levels, is something that could be debated. That they weren't using reason at all (in regard to the scriptural data or otherwise), is not something that can be supported as a claim. (And there are times when pro-trinitarians try to make that claim as well, typically because they think it'll somehow protect their position.)

I agree that various kinds of universalism don't require either trinitarianism or even theism. I do find and believe, though, that universalism (of a particular kind, with a few minor speculative variations perhaps) follows as a logical corollary from trinitarianism.


Oliver Harrison said...

Nice one, Josh B/Gregory MacD

As usual, I couldn't agree more

Keep up the good work


Bobby said...

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! (I'm trying to look more trinitarian) Sorry for the poor attempt at humor!

I am so blessed to have found this blog! You're really expanding my understanding and greatly advancing my search for more truth about God.

Oliver Harrison said...

hi Greg

I've got the job of writing a review of E.U. for Anvil, a British evangelical journal, so that's one thing for me to do.

But aside from that, two things have occurred to me. The first is the idea (doctrine) of God's prevenience. E.g. Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.

Generally, the mystics "understand" (!) this better than the more literal and/or logical thinkers, so look to them for best account of the prevenient God.

But this could form an important part of an E.U. argument.

Secondly, the idea that all salvation is not equal. Maybe there's no (or not so much) a black-and-white, in/out sort of thing but rather graded or stepped salvation, degrees of closeness to God. For this see the Hebrew (and Gk) idea of heavens (plural) and third heaven in 2 Corinthians. Also, Matthew 18:10 "See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that THEIR angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven." [Emphasis mine] Maybe not angels are as close? We are used to the idea of suspending our concept of time when we speak of heaven but maybe we need also to think about our idea of space (relative proximity as relationally indicative).

Must dash, am in huge hurry but thought I'd punt these out to you before I go.



Adam Pastor said...

Greetings Gregory MacDonald

On the subject of the trinity,
I recommend this video:
The Human Jesus

Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you to reconsider "The Trinity"

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor

Bobby said...

I watched The Human Jesus and found it compelling...I look forward to your assessment.

Oliver Harrison said...

Hi Gregory,

Loved the E.U. book and agree (or rather at least don't disagree) with any of it.

Can you say something about your view and use of scripture? I'm kind of assuming you're evangelical but not the classical "inerrant" type?

Can you say more about the relationship between the Bible and reason?

Thanks again for the book. Keep up the good work.



Anonymous said...

Well, I have no intention either of pushing this blog in anti-trinitarian direction. From my perspective, it´s clear that one can be a trinitarian and at the same time universalist.

This said, though, I have some questions and comments:
-Why the historical link between universalism and unitarianism? This is not only the case with the unitarian denominations, but these tendencies can also be found elsewhere to sometimes come together.

-I think there are good reasons to question whether the established, constantinian churches have been developing the faith from the early Jesus movement faithfully. Many today question the marriage between church and power/wealth and view it as fundamentally opposed to the way of Jesus. If this is the case, there are good reasons to be hesitant/critical even about the received dogmas.

-Talk of "worship" and Jesus being (a) G/god could also be interpreted along the lines of the OT theology of the king/coming Messiah. The king is on several occasions called god as a representative of JHW and people bow before the king etc.

-To say that if Jesus was "only" a human, God has no direct contact with the universe, to me seems to be to postulate a too neo-platonic picture of God. In the OT Scriptures, God is deeply involved with creation (Gen 1-3), God is not in the hebrew tradition the unmoved mover way beyond the messy, filthy earth-stuff.

-To me, there clearly seems to be a movement from "NT" and into the 4th century away from the life and humanity of Jesus. This movement began early and goes hand in hand with the tendency to disregard the instructions of the Messiah.

/Jonas Lundström

Anonymous said...

Adam Pastor. I like your name! Do you where one could get more information on the 16th century mennonite Adam Pastor. The only place I have heard of him is in George Williams, The Radical Reformation.


Gregory MacDonald said...

Dear Adam Pastor (and Bobby)

I am afraid that much as I would like to I simply do not have time to watch an online video for a couple of hours. Sorry. Perhaps someone else will do so and reply on behalf of the orthodox Christian position.


Gregory MacDonald said...


Forgive this brief reply. I have a meeting to attend.
1. on link between universalism and unitarianism. Well, I am not a specialist about this but I would suspect that it was all to do with the Enlightenment approach to reason and religion adopted by Unitarians that also inclined them towards universalism. But the unitarian-universalist link is relatively modern. Classical unitarians were trinitarian.

2. Christendom is indeed an ambiguous heritage and I would not hesitate in repudiating aspects of it. However, the creeds are rooted in the pre-Christendom 'Rule of Faith' which is itself rooted in the NT. Whilst we may think that some of the metaphysics is not for our time we still have to find a way to say something equivalent (after all, the Creeds tried to re-express NT theology in a more Greek mode for a new culture but, as Bauckham argues, it they were saying essentially the same thing)

3. The king was indeed God's representative but he was not worshipped as YHWH in the way that Jesus was. Jesus was more than simply another Davidic king - they were the shadow and he was the substance (to borrow a metaphor from Hebrews).

4. You are right but only because in the OT YHWH engages with creation through his word and his spirit. If you wish to say that this word and spirit are creatures (as some seem to) and not divine then God is no longer directly engaged. And that is precisely my point.

5. Jonas - you are right that there was (and often still is) a tendency to downplay the humanity of Christ and to focus on his divinity. But the key thing to remember is that when Christians do that they are going against the faith of the Church. The humanity of Jesus is fundamental. For a good theological discussion rerad T. F. Torrance for whom the humanity of Jesus is absolutely central.



Gregory MacDonald said...


I am surprised and pleased that my reviewer in Anvil will not be hostile (the British reviews have been somewhat cagey so far). All hail the book reviews editor!

On prevenience - perhaps. Can you elaborate?

On grades of being saved. Hmmmm. Well, I guess that Christians often speak of degrees of reward. However, I am not sure that it makes sense to think in terms of degrees of salvation but I am open to discussion on it. I must confess to being something of a 'in' or 'out' guy.

On 'inerrancy'. It is not a category I think about a lot but I am not opposed to it so long as I can offer all the qualifications necessary. My view of the Bible is fairly traditional evangelical but it is quite fuzzy around the edges.

Bible and reason? Sure but I am tongue tied. Can you start me off? What did you want me to comment on?


Oliver Harrison said...

Hi Greg

My head's gone "fuzzy" and I'm "tongue-tied" (to use your words) as we're moving house soon and all is boxes and chaos.

Prevenience: yes, not just God calling/choosing etc as per predestination but also something deeper, stealthier. God makes the first (slight and subtle but profound) move and we respond, reciprocate.

Hmmm. Not coming out right. A. W. Towzer and any number of the great mystics say it better.

Re degrees of salvation: we-e-e-ll I guess I was thinking of "closeness" to God -- and distance from him. e.g. some are offered the throne, others cast in outer darkness (implying there's shades of darkness, degrees of distance from God.) All may be saved (please God) but all may not be equally saved. We are, as Augustine (I think) said, as holy as we want to be.

Re prayer, mine has long been this: Come, Lord Jesus, and save all you have made.

Jason Pratt said...

{{Classical unitarians were trinitarian.}}

I think you meant classical universalists? {g}

What little I know about the eventual fusion in the 19th century, stems I think from the perception that there was some kind of intrinsic link between orthodoxy (in the sense of ‘getting all doctrine precisely correct, and this is the correct doctrine in all its picky details’) and salvation. “For this [misunderstanding],” if I may quote orthodox Catholic author and apologist Dorothy Sayers on a related topic, “I am inclined to blame the orthodox.” {g}

When theologians go out of their way to promote the idea (which was certainly promoted) that only people who accept and profess a particular doctrine will be saved, and that the two notions are inextricably linked that way, then it isn’t surprising to find people throwing the baby out with the pee-water. ‘Only those people who profess and accept orthodox trinitarian Christianity will be saved, eh? Well, since I reject the idea of hopeless damnation (in this or that way), then I’ll toss this idea, too, by association. Don’t look at me; those orthodoxy guys are saying the ideas are necessarily associated!’

Actually, no, they aren’t. In fact, I’m sure I wouldn’t be so sure as I am, of universal hope in God of salvation from sin, if I wasn’t orthodox trinitarian.

Adding a little more on Gregory’s point-replies (on which I have little if any dissension):

2.) I’m reasonably sure that most Christians in the world, including in the United States, are not represented by the classes of power and wealth. In today’s secularistic Western intellegensia culture, the odds are rather more likely that the power-and-wealth crew are going to be explicitly rejecting key portions of trinitarian orthodoxy. That was also very much true in the 4th century, by the way: there were only two main Emperors who were orthodox. The others were Arian or neo-Arian of some kind. (Or converted back to paganism from Arianism, in the case of Julian.) Many bishops continued to be Arian, too. Yet again, after the fall of Western Europe, the Germanic feudal nobility tended to be neo-Arian (though often with orthodox bishops).

So the connection between orthodoxy and power-and-wealth isn’t quite as cut and dried as it may seem. Sometimes the rich guys are generally orthodox, sometimes they aren’t.

3.) The matter isn’t so much a question of terminology, as of scope of authority claims along with (in some cases) ontological characteristics. Jesus, in all four Gospels, is represented as making authority claims over-above all other people, including other teachers, and over-above all Judaic religious institutions. His opponents weren’t merely being snarky about this nice guy preaching that we should all love one another: they understood He was making authority claims (and in some cases personal identity claims) properly reserved for YHWH. St. Paul and St. John of Patmos each go the distance with this, in terms of both identity and authority. (So does the Hebraist, in his own way, as do the Christians in the Acts narrative, though in fairly undeveloped language. I’m less familiar with the other epistleers. {g})

That being said, it should also be noted that not every character in the Gospels making what appears to us (in hindsight) to be high-divnity claims, need be doing so. Off the top of my head, I’m thinking of Nathanael’s confession in an early chapter of GosJohn, for example: “You are the son of God, the king of Israel” was, if I understand correctly, a sobriquet that could be applied to a merely human agent anointed/chosen by God to be the Messianic King. JohnBapt’s “Lamb of God” title (which interestingly begins and ends the use of that title in the Gospels!--which is evidence in favor of it being original to the use of the Baptist) could be referring to the suffering-servant role of a human-but-super-important king-messiah.

5.) Aside from agreement with Gregory on this point (the docetists come to mind), it should be stressed that orthodox theology has always insisted on both the full humanity and the full divinity of Christ. Almost all the official debates over what should be accepted as orthodoxy, in the 4th and 5th centuries, tended to be focused precisely on this issue, with one group insisting on the full humanity and full divinity of Christ, opposing various other groups who rejected the full divinity in this or that way, or who rejected the full humanity in this or that way; plus some debates among factions within the first group who both agreed that the full humanity and full divinity was important to stress but who disagreed on the most accurate way to understand and claim this doctrine.

That being said, I also have to admit that sometimes large and significant portions and representatives of the orthodox party have not always been the best at living a life accurately inspired by Jesus in the Gospels, even when they claimed they were trying to do so. (I have in mind the increasing ascetical practices of the monks, which continually and sadly strike me as wandering farther and farther off course. And no one can claim that, by and large, they weren’t vigorous for the position of ‘orthodox’ trinitarianism. The lives and practices of the Byzantine governing class are another large-scale tragic example of the same failure in a different direction.)


PS: as to the two hour video, I’ll try to get something done within the week. But it may take a while, due to busy schedule and general illness combined. I may or may not post it up as a series of entries over at the Cadre; if so, I'll alert here first.

Anonymous said...

I´m still hesitant to push this issue any further. I personally don´t (yet?) won´t to fight orthodoxy in this regard, but I wouldn´t affirm the orthodox position either. Please feel free to leave the question.

Some comments, though:


2) Even the apostle´s creed or what came before, were reducing the life of Jesus to a ",", which to me seems to be some steps away from the NT.

3) circular argument? Where is Jesus clearly worshipped as JHW?

4) the Spirit is God´s breath, it´s an aspect of God, God present, and therefore not a creature, of course. The word is, well, God´s word. God speaking. I truly believe that the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us, and that his name was Jesus.


3) Jesus was definitely totally unique. Jesus, the man, has been in the center of God´s vision for all eternity. In him, everything is created and all will be summed up in him. Jesus is God´s word materialized. Jesus is the anointed one and has received the name above all names. He is the king of kings, He sits at the right hand of God. Etc. To him every knee will bow. I can confess to all of this with whole my heart.

5) The question is not just what one affirms with ones lips. I am totally aware that orthodoxy confesses the humanity of Jesus. The question is what occupies ones mind, speach and practice. In my view, this has in "the church" not been the humanity of Jesus, as it was in the gospels, but the transcendent Son.

As with every minority view, it´s always the minority view that will be more scrutinized. But I think orthodoxy has a lot of work to do in explaining for example why all the NT authors keep speaking all the time of "God and Jesus". Shouldn´t they be saying "the Father and the Son"?


Oliver Harrison said...

I don't think this is the place to debate the Trinity. I don't want to speak for it Gregory but I think that within the bounds of this blog it's a given, period. (The clue is in the title: "Christian" would have been enough but "Evangelical" makes it pretty indisputable!)

If you want to discuss the doctrine of the Trinity there's plenty of other places online, not to mention Jews, Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses et al.

(Also, I *LOVE* the Trinity, in theory and practice and it bores me to rehash all the arguments for and against . . . )

So can you take your basic-premise-challenging 2-hour-long film somewhere else? We might as well be questioning whether this isn't all a dream or if Jesus is a spaceman or whatever. This debate is taking place on a marked-out pitch and the Bible and the Trinity are the frame of reference. Live with it or leave.

Sorry to sound grumpy but I think Gregory's too nice to put it this bluntly.

Jason Pratt said...


I’m not as grumpy about it as Oliver is, so long as Gregory has given permission for this to be a legitimate field of discussion on his journal (which appears to be why he created this particular thread.) {s}

{{I´m still hesitant to push this issue any further.}}

Keeping in mind, it’s an awfully big issue with bookloads of data to cover. {s}

While I could easily assay (and essay {g}) some answers to your follow-up comments to Gregory, I’ll let him try those first.

Allow me, however, to note two positions you take (one of them from a comment to Gregory):

1.) Jesus is the Word of God, God speaking.
2.) God-speaking was made flesh and dwelt among as a human man.

For most practical purposes, that looks like a fine synopsis of the orthodox two-natures doctrine of Christ. {s!} Unless you mean to say that God speaking isn’t God, perhaps, though it doesn’t look like you mean to be saying that. (Um... well, except when you seem to be challenging the notion of Jesus, as God speaking, being worshiped as YHWH.)

There could be more pickiness about how exactly these two natures are manifest in Christ, and that would reflect more nuanced Christological debate; but historically the people involved in doing so have each in their own way usually been trying to affirm both trinitarian theism and the two-natures doctrine of Christ’s incarnation. Those are in-house disputes among trinitarians, usually; though not necessarily exclusively among us only.

It seems clear enough that you don’t mean, by “Jesus is God´s word materialized”, that Jesus was only acting as a prophet (though that, too, of course). You agree earlier in your comment to Gregory that the Spirit is at least an aspect of God, and in fact is God present, therefore not a creature. Is the Word supposed to be a creature of God? If so, the Word cannot be intrinsically God speaking, per se. If not a creature of God (and it seems to be not in this reply of yours), then we’re looking at two, or by implication three, aspects of God. (The tacit third aspect being that-which-the-other-two-are-referrent-of.)

It would be peculiar if one of these aspects, Incarnate as Christ, was not eventually and properly worshiped as God in the scriptures, would it not? But if you don’t think Jesus is being worshiped as YHWH (at least in the sense of someone professing His identification with YHWH, in loyalty to Him), then where are you getting the notion that Jesus is God’s Word (where this looks clearly to be at least an aspect of God Himself, thus is in fact God in some mode)?

It might, I suppose, be gotten from somewhere else other than scripture, but in connection to Jesus (per se) it would still have to be in conjunction with scripture. And the language you’re using does look to be implying a scriptural base--I mean it doesn’t look like you’re drawing the conclusion from principle metaphysical analysis independent of scripture.

My point is that it looks like you yourself are testifying to the existence of scriptural testimony identifying Jesus with some aspect of God Himself.

(Incidentally, it also looks like you’re clearly rejecting adoptionism, where a merely human Jesus is simply given the power and authority of God, or maybe even somehow is given God’s nature, too, but doesn’t start off intrinsically with that. Jesus isn’t simply anointed with God, He is in fact God’s Word made human.)

Your position so far admittedly isn’t orthodoxy; it’s some kind of modalism, with a two-natures doctrine of the Incarnation. (And maybe with an incoherency in whether Jesus is supposed to be YHWH/God after all despite being a mode of God.)

The next crucial question would be: does the Jesus Who is one of at least two ‘aspects’ of God (the two aspects being themselves distinct somehow, and apparently being subordinate aspects to a chief reality of God somehow, but still being God present and God speaking somehow), made flesh as a man, behave in any way (much moreso in any regular way) as if He is somehow a distinct person in comparison with a person He recognizes and awows to be God?

If the answer is yes (and I think the answer is clearly yes), then you’ve got at least two distinct Persons of God that yet share the same substantial identity as the singular God. In creedal language, you’re neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance--just as we also do neither of (occasional inept lapses on our part notwithstanding {wry g}). If you were doing the former, then at best we’d have to call the Son and the Father treating each other as distinct Persons some kind of sham; if you were doing the latter, then the Word could not actually be regarded as God Himself speaking per se. I think for the most part you’re doing neither though.

At this point, you yourself have already got orthodox binitarianism (at least) with the orthodox two-natures Incarnation doctrine (fully man and fully God).

The only remaining theological distinction from orthodox trinitarianism would be how to consider the Spirit. You’re already considering It to be an aspect of God and God present, so you aren’t considering It to be some independently existing entity, nor (explicitly) are you considering it to be a creature of God. The Spirit, you affirm, is God. But distinct from the Word. Which itself is distinct, as the Son, from the Father.

But in the case of the Son and the Father, the distinction was one of person-ness in a unity of substance. If the Spirit is also to be regarded as distinct-yet-in-unity-of-essence-with these distinct Persons, that’s already pointing strongly toward the Spirit being Himself a distinct Person of God in the same single unity.

After that (and perhaps after checking to see if there is testimony of scriptural authors authoritatively treating the Spirit as a person distinct from the Father and the Son), you’re an orthodox trinitarian theist. {s} (The next issue might be whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, or from the Father alone although through the Son. If the former, then you would agree with the filioque and western orthodoxy. If the latter, then you would agree with the general position of eastern orthodoxy, though there’s some leeway there.)

You already aren’t, therefore, really that far from being in fact an orthodox trinitarian. You’d only be lacking putting together the pieces you already have.

{{In my view, this has in "the church" not been the humanity of Jesus, as it was in the gospels, but the transcendent Son.}}

The transcendent Son is naturally more impressive, of course, to the imagination. But orthodox history has routinely and seriously occupied itself precisely in practice of the humanity of Jesus in artwork (especially crucifixes and icons, both of which as western and eastern artistic practices respectively were emphatically and vociferously connected to the theology of Christ’s Incarnate humanity) and in the Communion Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Again, while art was routinely used to train the practice of the mind in regard to Christ’s divinity, it was also just as routinely used to train the practice of the mind in regard to Christ’s humanity.

Moreover, the history of Christological conflicts has more often than not been aimed, by the orthodox party, at protecting and emphasizing the humanity of Jesus as well as His divinity. More often than not, the threat (whether perceived or actual) was that the humanity was being sacrificed by the heresy in favor of the divinity.

In any case, the humanity of Jesus was clearly trained by regular creedal recitation to occupy the mind, speech and (at least ritual) practice of the orthodox believers, whether high or low in society:

From the Apostles Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hell. On the third day He rose again.” (Though that isn’t all that it says about Jesus, of course.)

From the Nicene Creed: “by the power of the Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day He rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures”

From the Trinitarian Creed of Catholic Faith (found in the so-called Athanasian Creed): “Furthermore: I believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the substance of His mother, born in the world; altogether God and altogether Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting; equal to the Father, as touching His Godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching His humanity. Who although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ; one, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God: One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation, descended into Hell, and rose again the third day from the dead.”

Each of these creeds says more about Jesus than this, of course, as the divine Son; and they each do tend to speak more about the divinity of the Son in relation to the Father (and Spirit), as the creeds go on. But these aren’t supposed to be training in what Jesus historically did and said during His ministry; they’re theological training, not historical (except in the most summary of fashions).

The historical training is the liturgy; the regular round of storytelling, running in a multi-year cycle (with certain portions of the story focused on every year, of course: His birth, His death, and other key events in His human life.)

In any case, if you have complaints about this or that orthodox population or congregation not emphasizing the full humanity as well as the full divinity that they profess about Christ, the solution is not the abandonent of orthodoxy; because the orthodox theological doctrine set is not the problem. Something else is.

Put another way, it’s fine to critique the orthodox for not being orthodox enough. But the solution to them not being orthodox enough, if that’s the problem, is for them to be orthodox enough, not for them to be even more unorthodox. {s}

{{why all the NT authors keep speaking all the time of "God and Jesus". Shouldn´t they be saying "the Father and the Son"?}}

They do say “the Father and the Son”. So does Jesus, much more often in various ways than subsequent NT authors talking about Jesus. {g}

It’s true that there is a referential habit in the epistles of speaking of God and the Lord; with the Lord often (though not always) referring to Jesus, and with God often (though not always) being described as the Father. (And sometimes the Father being mentioned without immediately direct reference to {ho theos}.) In other words, there is a tendency to refer to one person as God and the Father, and to another person as Jesus, Christ, the Son, and the Lord--with “the Lord” being an application of the common OT Greek translation of YHWH, to Jesus (Christ, the Son of the Father.) Either this means there are multiple distinctly existent YHWH entities, or the YHWH of the OT is not in fact the true God after all, or it means that there is a single YHWH entity with multiple distinct persons of at least Father and Son (the Son being Incarnated eventually in history as the man Jesus Christ but clearly existing before-above then.) Notably, the phrase of the Shema proclamation uses the term for a singular group: the Lord our God the Lord is a-unity.

Some examples of four different NT authors referring to the Father and the Son (where the Son clearly is meant to be Jesus Christ):

1 John 2:22-25 “This is the antichrist, the one who is disowning the Father and the Son. Everyone who is disowning the Son, neither is having the Father. He who is avowing the Son is having the Father also. Let this which you hear from the beginning be remaining in you. If ever that which you hear from the beginning should be remaining in you, you also will be remaining in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise which He promises us: the life eonian!” (probably referring to the stirring declaration of Jesus as reported in GosJohn 12:49-50; “But the Father Who sends Me--He has given the command to Me what I may be saying and what I may speak. And I am aware what His command is: ‘Life eonian!!’ [God’s own life.] So what I speak, thus I do speak; just as the Father has told Me.”

Colossians 1:12-17; “At the same time, [we are] thanking the Father, Who makes you competent for a part of the allotment of the saints in the Light, Who rescues us out of the jurisdiction of the Darkness, and transports us into the kingdom of the Son of the love of Him, in Whom we are having the deliverance, the pardon of sins, Who [meaning the Son] is the Image of God the Invisible, Firstborn of every creature, for in Him is the-all created: that in the heavens and that on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones, or lordships, or sovereignties, or authorities, all is created through Him and for [or into] Him, and He is before all, and everything has its cohesion in Him.” (After which, by the way, comes one of the greatest universal-salvation texts in all scripture. {s!} Where, not incidentally, the fullness of the deity is pleased to be tabernacling in the Son.)

Heb 1:5-8, “For, to which of the messengers did He [meaning God] say at any time, ‘You are My Son, I today have begotten You’? And again, ‘I shall be to Him for a Father and He shall be to Me for a Son’? Now, whenever He may again be leading the Firstborn One into the inhabitation, He is saying, ‘And worship Him, all the messengers of God!’ And, indeed, to the messengers He is saying, ‘The One Who is making His messengers blasts [of wind] and His ministers a flame of fire.’ Yet, toward the Son [He is saying], ‘Thy throne, O God, is into the eon of the eon, and a scepter of rectitude is the scepter of Thy Kingdom. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest injustice; therefore Thou are anointed by God, Thy God, with the oil of exultation beyond Thy partners.’ And [again declaring to the Son], ‘Thou, in accord, original Lord, found the earth [in the sense of creatively grounding it], and the heavens are the works of Thy hands. They shall be perishing, yet Thou art continuing, and all as a cloak shall be aged and as if nothing wilt Thou be rolling them up. As a cloak they shall also be changing. Yet Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not be defaulting.’ Now, toward which of the messengers has He declared at any time, ‘Sit at My right, till I should be placing Thine enemies footstooling Thy feet?’” (The Hebraist thus begins his epistle by describing how the Son appointed by God, through Whom He makes the eons, and Who makes a cleaning of sins being the efflugence of The Glory (i.e. the Shekinah) and Emblem of His assumption, is-becoming so much better than any angels, enjoying the allotment of a more excellent name than any of them. I am treating the Hebraist as if he is not St. Paul, btw.)

2 Peter 1:16-18, “For not by following wise-myths do we make known to you the power and presence of the Lord of us, Jesus Christ, but by becoming spectators of His magnificence. For He received the honor and glory of The Voice from God, Father, being carried to Him in such a way by the Glory Magnifical, ‘This is My Son, the Beloved, in Whom I delight!’ And this voice we hear being carried out of heaven, being together with Him in the holy mountain.”

It does happen that among the canonical authors, it is relatively uncommon for them to refer to one person being the Son of the other person and one person being the Father of the other person, in close reflexive-reference proximity to one another. But that is largely an accident of composition: they often refer to the Father of Jesus Christ without necessarily saying at the same time that Christ is the Son, and they often refer to Jesus as the Son without necessarily using the title of Father in regard to God Whom He is the Son of. It just isn’t usually necessary, except for extra-special emphasis perhaps, for the authors to refer to them both by the title references of the Father and the Son in close topical proximity: one title in reference to the relationship between the two persons always suffices to imply the other title.

I could go into this in vastly more detail; but I’m already at the bottom of my seventh page. Suffice to say that orthodoxy has done LOTS of work already on the topic over the millennia. {s} (In fact, if anything we've tended historically to talk a lot more about our position than scrutinize minority positions. Not that the latter doesn't happen on occasion, too, of course.)


Gregory MacDonald said...


On prevenience: Both Calvinists and Arminians agree that some kind of prevenient grace is required for salvation - that none may come unless the Father draws them (by his Spirit). They differ in that Calvinists think that if the Father draws them then they will come (irresistable grace) whereas Arminians such as John Wesley believed that the prevenient grace of God made it possible for sinners to come to the Father but not inevitable (human free dom can resist).

But does this get us further in the discussion? If we opt for the Calvinist version then YES - God could irresistable draw all people to Christ. If we opt for the freewill theistic version then I am not sure that it does. People are still free to reject God's prevenient grace.

I guess that I'd say that God is very clever and even on a freewill theistic model God will get his will done in the end. But that comes out of my analysis of freedom and not out of my understanding of prevenience.

So I am open to you idea but not at all sure how the concept of prevenience might do the necessary work.

There may be shaded in Hell and in the new creation but they are shades within two distinct categories. There is a fundamental distinction between the two destinies - I don't simply see them as two ends of a sliding scale. I think NT theology requires the retention of two fundamental fates even if we see grades of sorts within each.

BTW - if your fellow evangelical Anglicans see you going all soft on universalism you'll be persona non grata. Prepare for fun.


Gregory MacDonald said...

Dear Jonas/anonymous, Oliver and Jason

What fun. I am OK for this conversation to go on (I'd delete the comments otherwise).

I am also honored that Oliver stepped in on my behalf. In a sense you are perfectly correct Oliver. I am an evangelical so by definition I am supposed to be trinitarian. So by being evangelical it is a given that I will be trinitarian. Amen!

Nevertheless, I don't think that this precludes discussion of the 'evangelical' part of my identity any more than the 'universalist' precludes discussion of the 'universalist' part of my identity. You are correct that my intention is to focus on the universalist part but I am open to discussing the whole thing.

(In fact, my biggest problem with this blog is that I don't have much to say about universalism that is not in the book and I don't want to repeat the book ... so I am a little stuck for things to write about! You have no idea what a help Steve Hays has been in that regard!)

Good questions Jonas - I am all in favor of asking questions. But my time is rather limited so, as I have my guardian angel Jason to hand I will allow him to converse on my behalf. He seems like a very informed theological guy.

He is also like a bolt of lightning and replies with speed as well as insight (and he must have no fingerprints left with all the typing he manages to do! It takes me a while just to keep up with reading his output).

So thanks Jason for contributing to the discussion - your insights are very helpful.

Peace to you all brothers

Jason Pratt said...

I appreciate the compliment, Gregory. {g}

As it happens, I think I ended up addressing Jonas' comments-to-you along the way, anyway.


Oliver Harrison said...

Hi All

GM you said: "if your fellow evangelical Anglicans see you going all soft on universalism you'll be persona non grata. Prepare for fun."

Woo -- you've done some research on me. Scary! But I really can't find any problem with your book, and I don't care who knows it. Nor will I go pseudonymous, and IMHO opinion neither should you but then you've got more to lose than me. And alas the world is a cruel, cruel place.

Anyway, I savaged "Pierced For Our Transgressions" (a massive pro-penal substitution magnum opus peddling the li(n)e: "Jesus was punished for our sins and bore the wrath of God on the cross" ), and only got good mail from that review (which was also in Anvil, so also read by evangelicals).

I think young English Anglican evangelicals are OK, the Fulcrum conference always seems to be very cool and open. I hope so. I hope you think so, too, but maybe not?

Keep up the good work, Gregory, I shall rush to your defence in all ways unwonted, unwarrented, unwise, unweary, and unworthily.


Meanwhile I shall of and think how I can best find words (mine or others') for this prevenient thing that's kicking around my head.



Anonymous said...

Jason. Wow, what can I say? All of these words... I actually feel a little honored and humbled that you took the time.

Let me just say that I´m familiar with the orthodox position. I have studied theology in an evangelical setting and the development of orthodoxy, and also the deviations. I have also been a trinitarian for whole of my christian life up until recently. And I also don´t go around constantly fighting trinitarianism, for exactly the reasons you mention. I don´t reject trinitarianism (yet?), but I wouldn´t subscribe either (is this a possible position? I don´t know).

You did a good job in making me into a trinitarian. Maybe I am. I just think, despite your arguments, that trinitarian orthodoxy says more than can be firmly rooted in scripture. I don´t think it´s a good thing to make the greek philosophical concepts of "person", "nature" and "substance" be central for all believers in all ages and places. The early Jesus movement were coping without them, and I think we can cope without them in our philosophical context. Maybe the church of the 4th century had to use them in their context, but I think it was a bad thing to make them so central, and don´t think we need to be dependent on them now.

Maybe my position is close to orthodoxy (thanks for the friendly interpretation!), but it could also be interpreted as more in line with dynamic monarchianism (Paul of Samosata/Miguel Servetus/ebionites?) or maybe even some version of adoptionism (admitting, though that this adoption didn´t just happen by accident, but was preordain by God from eternity).

I don´t want to decide whether God´s spirit is "a person", because I think this is an extra-biblical and maybe even mis-leading question, plus the fact that "person" in our context doesn´t mean the same as in greek and latin ("prosopon" comes closer to a role, than an "individual"). Would I have to decide, though, I do lean in the direction of the Spirit being not a person distinct from God, but God´s spirit/presence/power. I also wouldn´t like to decide the form of Jesus pre-existence, whether it was "personal" or not (for the same reasons), but would I have to decide, I would say that Jesus (the man!) is pre-existent within God´s plan/vision, not as a distinct pre-birth "being". I also wouldn´t like to say definitely how the incarnation took place, but I do lean in the direction that it was God´s vision/wisdom/plan/message (/heart?) (="word") that was materialized ("made flesh"), but I don´t think this is the same as saying that Jesus is the same thing as JHW. Jesus (the rabbi) is God´s true image, but they are still two (though united), and Jesus is obedient to God, the Father. Jesus has been GIVEN the name above all names, the place at the right hand of God etc.

Gregory MacDonald said...


Thanks for your kind words (the evangelical Anglican was a guess because you are reviewing in Anvil).

Do I have more to lose than you? I am not sure. My main motivation for being anonymous is to avoid undermining the reception of the message in my other publications.

Sadly some of the churches that use my material may well stop doing so if they knew about the EU.

I don't care about that in terms of my reputation (most of the time ... sometimes I do, if I am honest) but in terms of the more important messages that I want to get across.

However, I have long known that I could only be anonymous for a while so I expect my identity will come out some time (perhaps sooner rather than later, eh?)

In gratitude,

Phil :-)

Anonymous said...

Since you mention this yourself, I also think it´d be better to not be anon. As followers of Jesus, we should always be ready (and even expect) to lose our platforms and move on downwards. Faithfulness is more important than the (perceived) effectiveness of our ministry. God doesn´t need my specific platform to fulfill God´s vision.The prize one is ready to pay for proclaiming God´s message as one understands it, also, as I see it, is a kind of measure of how firm the conviction are.

I say this with deep and genuine respect for your book and out of personal experiences.

Bobby said...

Esteemed Contributors:
Thank you, one and all, for your honesty, integrity, intelligence and commitment! This blog is teaching me more and more and I'm grateful! Gregory, thanks for allowing the continued discussion! And thanks for the hint of your true identity (Phil :-)).

Jason, I'm 61 and not that bright, what do these symbols mean ({wry g}, {g}, and {s})? I have some ideas, but don't want to look even more stupid!

Again, thanks to you all for enriching my life!

Oliver Harrison said...

Hi Gregory

It could come out in the Anvil review if you want?!



Jason Pratt said...


They're a type of "emoticon". It's a convention that developed on the internet many years ago, and occurs in various ways today. {g} means grin, {s} means smile. I think I spell out everything else. {lopsided g} (I still sometimes use {wg} for wide grin, though, or multiple g's for emphasis.)

I used to use greater-than/less-than brackets, because back when I started writing on the internet html coding wasn't used. Nowadays I can't use those brackets most places without inadvertently triggering random coding effects. So I use fancy brackets instead.

Some people use ASCII symbols to draw expressions. :) would be a smile. :D would be a grin. XD is a laugh, with the eyes squinched shut.

You may see variants of little yellow faces on some message boards, too. Some of them are completely EPIC!!! {ggg!} I wish blogger could use them.

I'm sorry for the delay in getting back to Jonas, but I'm working on the video that Bobby wanted comments on. I've spent nine or ten hours on it already, I think, and I'm about 25% of the way through the video.


Jason Pratt said...

Update: Friday, 7:00pm. Now halfway through the video. I've written 22,270 words of report, analysis and commentary on it; which, incidentally, is 22,270 words I could have been writing on my novel this week but didn't.

I'm afraid they don't discuss issues in much depth yet, after an hour. I don't know for sure that it won't get better in the second half, but inductively I have to say I'm not expecting it (based on the first half so far).

Off to go eat.


Jason Pratt said...


{{I don´t reject trinitarianism (yet?), but I wouldn´t subscribe either (is this a possible position? I don´t know).}}

If agnosticism is a possible position to be in. {s!} And I do believe it’s possible for people to be positively agnostic about some things. I see no reason at this time to think that this could not be one of those things, that a person might neither accept nor reject. (Though I can also see how it might also be said that agnosticism involves some level of rejection.)

{{You did a good job in making me into a trinitarian. Maybe I am.}}

Actually, I said several times that you aren’t. But that you seem to be close to it. My point was that we seem to be avowing very many things together. Possibly I misunderstood the properties of what you were claiming, though.

{{I don´t think it´s a good thing to make the greek philosophical concepts of "person", "nature" and "substance" be central for all believers in all ages and places.}}

The only reason those concepts were borrowed was to try to speak about the concepts and data the people were finding in scriptural testimony. This is why the trinitarians rejected Arius’ notion of the Platonic dyad, for example, which he was trying to import into the theological discussion. (Though it should also be fairly said that Arius only did this because he thought the scriptures were testifying to the operations of a dyad, in Christ.)

For what it’s worth, and as an aside, I am not myself aware of any adoptionists who would claim that what happened to Christ was an accident (except perhaps in the classical Greek philosophical sense of it being not-a-necessary-existence. {g}) Adoptionists seem to me to have always have been very much in favor of the gracious choice of God in regard to Christ; and I certainly see no disagreement from orthodoxy in that.

As for dynamic monarchism, while trinitarian orthodoxy is more than this I very seriously doubt it is less, nor denies it either. (The two-natures doctrine of Christ would include the positive affirmations of dynamic monarchism, or so I expect.)

{{I don´t want to decide whether God´s spirit is "a person", because I think this is an extra-biblical and maybe even mis-leading question, plus the fact that "person" in our context doesn´t mean the same as in greek and latin ("prosopon" comes closer to a role, than an "individual").}}

And yet the orthodox don’t restrict personhood to being closer to a role, though we recognize the importance of roles, too, in personal relationships.

Our concept of personhood was borrowed from distinctly active wills choosing whether or not they will cohere with one another without ceasing to exist as distinctly active wills. Thus, from the story of God relating to created creatures. But also from Biblical language, where we find God frequently spoken of as a similar coherent multiplicity. The language might be discarded as a pre-Biblical archaic linguistic irrelevancy, rather like some of the gender-term assignments; but historically it was this kind of Biblical language that impressed people into becoming orthodox. (By comparison, note that in the video referenced by Adam Pastor and Bobby, the plurality-names for the singular God are simply waved off, or attributed wrongly to the relatively modern and only distantly similar anachronism of the ‘royal plural’. The video, in its first hour, never once mentions that the term for “one” in the Shema is most commonly used in Biblical language as a compound singularity, either; leaving the impression we’re groundlessly reading that meaning into the word.)

While we don’t deny that God has roles, we affirm that God, the ultimate ground of existence, is far more than any mere ‘role’; and that humans, though derivative creatures, are also far more (by the grace of God to ally and enemy alike) than any mere ‘role’. Similarly, the only reason we consider the Spirit to be more than a role of God, is because (unlike “judge” or “creator” for example) we do find evidence scattered here and there in the Biblical record to the effect that the Spirit is acting in a distinct inter-relationship with other Persons of God, in the Biblical sense of what it means to be a person.

The language may be borrowed from Greek and Latin; but the concept is borrowed from true love truly loving in a cooperative unity of distinction. I am not claiming that such concepts of personal value are simply missing from paganism; but the history of Judeo-Christianity has been the growth (stuttering and often misfiring though it may have been) of personal value and personal responsibility within the cultural understanding of relationships.


Anonymous said...

Jason. Thanx for your answers. I think I will leave this discussion here. But thanks for taking the time. I have been listening.I think.

Bobby said...

Please check this out:

I found this article and would appreciate your thoughts.

Bobby said...

Sorry…the link was truncated earlier.

Jason Pratt said...

Having finished an in-depth analysis of the first hour of The Human Jesus last week, I decided to post up a summary of the results so far. If this seems longish, keep in mind that the original document currently runs 22,270 words. (I've trimmed it more than 60%.) Also, for fairness’ sake, it should be kept in mind that issues omitted or slurred over in the first hour might (for all I know) be addressed in the second hour.

Summary comments on “Act I”
While the video correctly observes that the Hebrew word for “one” in the Shema is “eh-chad” (or AeCHaD, to be a bit more precise in English alphabet terms), no mention at all is made about this word commonly meaning a compound singularity in Biblical usage, leaving the impression that Trinitarians are reading a plural meaning into a word that only has connotations of absolute singularity. (Nor is the common use of AeCHaD ever once discussed in the first hour of the video.)

The video also neglects to mention that the great post-Talmudic Jewish commentator Maimonides started the rabbinic habit of “for AeCHaD read YaCHYiD” in the Shema proclamation, precisely to combat centuries of Christian appeal to the usage of AeCHaD. While the video doesn’t mention YaCHYiD, the commenters on the video routinely treat AeCHaD as if it was more like YaCHYiD, so one might legitimately suspect a connection there to this Jewish counter-apologetic tactic. (It should be noted, by the way, that Trinitarians could still make our exegetical case even if the Shema featured YaCHYiD. We would be down just one piece of exegetical data out of hundreds; and the difference is still something we could easily affirm as monotheists over-against multiple-Independent-Fact claims such as, for example, tri-theism.)

Professor Buzzard anachronistically reads a modern counter-trinitarian Jewish doctrinal concern (that the one-God is only one person) back into Jewish concerns of 1st Century Palestine (and earlier), as if the notion that the one God was a compound unity was something Jews had been struggling against as encroachment from other cultures. (It wasn’t.) This includes reading a “one person” affirmation meaning into Jesus’ use of the Shema in GosMark 12:28-33 (and parallels). The narrative contexts are not discussed; nor the notion that Jesus might be revealing a greater understanding of OT teaching in the claims he was making about himself.

This is one of many illustrations of a frequent tactic in the first half of the video, of treating a claim of “one God, multiple Persons” as actually meaning “multiple Gods”. Interestingly, Professor Buzzard himself admits (later in “Act II”) that “one God, multiple Persons” could be philosophically coherent; which, he hastily adds, is why one has to go to the scriptural record to see if that or some other coherent notion is being testified to there. This doesn’t keep him (or other video apologists) from treating the notion as being either tritheism or blatantly incoherent for the rest of the video’s first hour, though; including as a ground for rejecting at least two translations that would involve multiple Persons of YHWH interacting with one another as distinct persons.

“Act I” ends with no discussion of how AeCHaD is commonly used in scripture, including no argument made for why AeCHaD cannot in the Shema be meaning a compound singularity; with very little of what expert Trinitarians actually believe having been discussed (only one ‘professional’ Trinitarian is referenced at all in the whole first hour, and he’s a kind-of-clueless pastor who was obviously chosen for his vague and incidentally heretical analogy attempt), and some of that is presented in a misleading fashion; and absolutely no discussion of Trinitarian rationales (scriptural and/or metaphysical). Very little of OT usage (and less context) is mentioned, almost nothing is discussed of what Jesus is found to be teaching in the canon (though single-person monotheism is claimed to have been established as his belief off the one quote from GosMark), and zero discussion of any NT author talking about God and/or Jesus is given. (Though St. Paul is mentioned once or twice in brief passing, merely to deny that he could have been promoting anything other than single-person monotheism.)

I don’t fault the section for only covering, in ten minutes, a little bit that could be covered in direct relation to its topic. I fault it for misrepresenting the position it’s opposing without due establishment; and I fault it for treating its own position as being already solidly established via a tiny selection of data that it partially misrepresents the character of.

Summary comments on “Act II”

Much of this section involves man-on-the-street interviews, demonstrating that most Trinitarians don’t have expertise in professing the doctrine (the one ‘professional’ Trinitarian reference of the first hour occurs here, too--where the pastor doesn’t do as good a job as one of the non-professional women earlier!)

One of the more frequent video apologists is introduced, Lee F. Greer (the Third), who asserts that the Jews of 1st –century Palestine were very strict monotheists (by and large, I agree, and I have no connection to those relative few who weren’t); and that polytheism, per se, would be foreign to that environment (also true enough for present purposes); and that Jesus by the evidence in the Gospels was strictly a monotheist as well (which I also agree is true--though not quite in the same way the video producers do, who continue to treat the claim of compound singularity as if it means distinctly separate plurality.)

Buzzard complains that people are taught to accept it as a mystery rather than be bothered with going into the complications of the position; which perhaps seemed too much like common sense, so he adds (unfortunately with some accuracy) that Trinitarians have often tried (though he omits the “often” part) to defend the doctrine from criticism by claiming that it cannot be reduced to logic, can’t be logically thought about, can only be apprehended not comprehended “and that’s a strange distinction in itself.”

I can certainly sympathize with his latter complaint; though he seems unwilling to sympathize that if the doctrine is true not everyone is going to be able to be necessarily competent at understanding it, any more than most of us understand 99% of the complex things going on around us, even though someone somewhere understands them. (Buzzard calls this normal societal process “sinister”; though it’s possible that he meant that a doctrine of salvation-by-correct-doctrine, often connected to orthodox profession, is sinister--which, as an orthodox theologian and not a gnostic heretic, I would certainly be prepared to agree with.)

Some metaphysical arguments are clumsily attempted, such as God “in heaven” being unable to introduce any effects into Nature without leaving “heaven”. (Buzzard doesn’t notice that this argument, if principally accepted, would involve not only denying any kind of miraculous action of God, but would end up in cosmological God/Nature dualism. All he sees is a way to misrepresent Trinitarian teaching in a fashion that would imply two completely distinct “god” entities, the Father “up there” and the Son “down here”.)

Greer meanwhile states (correctly enough), that to claim Jesus wasn’t a human being is to deny the historical evidence. Orthodox Trinitarians, of course, do not deny that Jesus was a human being, but this is one of the clearest examples of a common category error made in the video, where “more than a human, too [i.e. as well as being a human being]” means “not a human being”.

Dan Mages (who shows up as an apologist twice in the first hour) manages to make an almost-sophisticated metaphysical argument, where he assumes that multiple persons would necessarily require separately existent instances of a category of ‘substance’. His reason for believing that this would be necessarily true is not stated, leaving the impression that he is simply drawing the conclusion as an argument from analogy. (i.e., ‘I and two other human persons are separately existing entities of the same category of essence or substance, therefore this would have to be true of God as well.’) Still, it’s the most substantial reason yet given (pardon the pun!), in the first 30 minutes, for at least doubting the doctrine. Had he qualified it to an inductive expectation, I would have acknowledged that it can have some proper weight in doubting the truth of the doctrine. (Though how much intuitive ‘weight’ it would carry would be variable from person to person; this person might think it adds more than another.)

Rather than continue with the first substantial discussion of the issues, though, the video returns to man-on-the-street interviews of no particular substance, as well as some embarrassingly bad metaphysical rebuttals. (Are you standing up while giving this interview, Professor Buzzard? Sure. Are you male? Of course. Why should I believe those both are true about you, though?--no one can be 200% anything, yes? You have to be only partly male if you’re standing up, or vice versa.) Though in fairness the young man to whom Buzzard is talking embarrasses himself, too, when, having more politely defended his belief with a reply amounting to ‘God can become fully man but it’s impossible for me to become fully God’, he shows he is not aware of Jesus testifying that the Father hasn’t told him when the return will be. Buzzard simply claims this shows non-omniscience, the end. No actual discussion of how expert trinitarians treat this passage is given.

Perhaps sensing that this isn’t sufficient, Buzzard shifts to a far more pertinent scandal than “a God Who doesn’t know”, namely “a God Who dies”. No discussion is made of how positively important Trinitarians accept this to be, although the poor young interviewee does note that Jesus doesn’t stay dead! {g} (So it isn’t merely a case of God dying the end.)

Dr. Mahmmoud Abdel-Basset, former director of the Islamic Center in Los Angeles, briefly appears in order to claim (probably by accident) that the New Testament is definitive to Muslims as the last revelation of God to all mankind. The video doesn’t mention the Qu’ran nor the opinion that conservative Muslims actually have of the New Testament and its (literally crucial!) historical claims.

Acts 2:36, the climax of St. Peter’s first sermon, is very briefly mentioned by a new apologist, Paul Derho, who doesn’t bother to discuss the passage’s extensive narrative contexts to any degree (but who doesn’t mind reading a Unitarian meaning into it like a simple prooftext.)

Next up around 28:20, is Chuck Jones, “Non-Trinitarian Christian Pastor”. He doesn’t find the idea acceptable either. Because he has a son himself who isn’t him.

He also notes that if we cannot take concepts of God and teach them to children in a way that children can understand, they may not make sense. Possibly not; though in my experience it isn’t difficult to teach children concepts of other entities that make immediate sense to them even though more difficult things could also be taught about those entities, perhaps as the children grow older. It isn’t difficult to teach a child that the sun rises every day in the east. It is only a little more difficult to teach the child that the sun rises only twice a year in the same place in the east. It is more difficult still to teach the child that the Earth rotates on its axis to give us night and day. And so on. Some of those shifts could seem to reverse everything the child has understood up to now. But that’s how it goes. We don’t forbid teaching astrophysics because the child will not understand it; nor do we argue against the truth of a particular tenet or set of astrophysical ‘doctrines’ by noting that a child cannot understand it. Adults start teaching children simple things first, and then try to teach more complex truths in regard to the same topic, insofar as possible for any particular child. (None of this is mentioned by Jones, in the first half of the video anyway.)

The narrator closes out “Act II” by asking, if AeCHaD is so simple to understand, how did it become so misunderstood? “The answer begins here.” (With a painting of some great ecclesial assembly. Act III does not in fact discuss AeCHaD at all, much less explain how a commonly occurring compound-singular noun became so misunderstood as referring to a compound-singular entity instead of a non-compound-singular entity.)

Summary comments on “Act III”

This Act begins with Professor Buzzard claiming that “what happened was simply this, beginning in the 2nd century”: Gentile influence. More specifically, pagan philosophy, arriving around 150 AD or so. By the application of innuendo, Buzzard claims that the new Gentile leadership of the church “imposed” their own polytheistic and/or philosophical ideas onto Jewish and Christian scripture. Buzzard doesn’t mention which polytheistic and/or philosophical ideas that would have been fatal to a single-person mere monotheism were foisted onto the Jewish and Christian scriptures.

The video introduces Danny Dixon, a moderator for, who has a more difficult time than the “Team”-shirt woman stating “the fundamental doctrine of trinitarianism”, one God in three Persons. (It might admittedly be more difficult, though, for him to remember that we do not profess three Persons who are three Gods, seeing as how his own people are routinely taught we profess this. As Buzzard tried to convince the woman she meant, for example.)

Danny’s brief recount of the history of using philosophical terms common at the time to debate the characteristics of God and Christ, is not inaccurate, and even has some moderation to it; he doesn’t claim (at first) that Constantine imposed his own ideas on the Council of Nicea, for example. (That comes later by innuendo.) He does forget to mention that “as Emperor after Emperor converted to Christianity” after Constantine, they were all Arian, not Orthodox, until after Julian the Apostate (who abandoned Christianity altogether and tried to reinstate paganism). He also forgets to mention that Constantine wasn’t exactly some kind of simon-pure orthodoxist himself; nor was his court historian, the first Church Historian, Eusebius (who, as the report goes, baptized Constantine an Arian right before death.)

It is interesting that he forgets to note these things, because while the Restoration Fellowship would almost certainly reject Arianism per se (Arius and his colleagues taught that Christ was a pre-existent originally not-human created entity, like a super-angel), they fit very well into the neo-Arianism that quickly developed among the military and ruling classes: Jesus was a mere man chosen by God to be the greatest of heroes, and maybe was quasi-divinized in a way after death (though not to the same level of God, of course). But, on the other hand, remembering these things might make for problems when trying to blame the ruling/military classes for which bishops got elected and for imposing orthodoxy onto the Christian people.

It is more interesting, because Danny does remember Arius and “other Unitarians” existed and had a significant amount of influence in the church: such as getting other bishops elected, teaching people what had to be believed to avoid the sin of blasphemy against God, and excommunicating other bishops. (All of which the Arian party did and continued to do throughout the 4th century. Danny doesn’t mention this, though.)

The video introduces Colin Brown, “Professor of Theology and Christology at Fuller University”. He speculates, “if [someone whose name is chopped off by the video edit] is right, what Constantine was trying to do [by “creating Sunday”] was start a new cult that would unite Christianity and Sun-worship.”

No one remarks that if Constantine was such a devoted Trinitarian, trying to “control” (Brown’s words) the Council of Nicea, it would be peculiar for him to try to unite Christianity with Sun-worship: for Sun-worship, as far back as Akhenaten, tends to be very “Unitarian”! (Only one sun in the sky, after all. And it doesn’t have three phases or emanations or aspects or portions or whatever. The moon may reflect the sun, but it’s only a reflection. Etc.)

Also, no one remarks that Constantine hardly created the religious importance of what we now call “Sunday” among Christianity; but that this developed very naturally out of the belief (clearly demonstrated in the canon) that Jesus rose from the grave on the morning after the Sabbath.

Danny returns for (not exactly yet) the “bottom line”: Constantine sends the Arian bishops into exile after the vote at Nicea. Danny doesn’t mention that the vote was won on exegetical argument by the Trinitarians, as well as on appeal to which tradition had the longest traceable history among the congregations of the voting bishops; nor that Arius was trying to introduce the Platonic concept of the Dynad, as an innovation, to explain Christ. Nor, incidentally, does he mention what happened with the Emperors succeeding Constantine for most of the 4th century. (But the edit quickly switches back to Professor Buzzard as Danny starts to say something else, so he might have been going to add those facts, or one of them anyway.)

Buzzard (correctly) notes that the Council of Nicea eventually came to be considered inspired (“the truth was revealed there”). He then passes over the minor matter of a hundred and fifty years or so, by mentioning that after “the two councils” “the truth was finally settled, the truth won out” and then “the Emperor”, “to prevent further discussion”, said “this is it, we’re not going to divide on this issue anymore.”

Buzzard does not here discuss any of the various rationales of those “two councils” (apparently meaning Nicea and Chalcedon).

Buzzard does wrongly state that once Constantine put “his stamp” on the majority decision, this decision “has not been challenged”. On the contrary, it was constantly challenged in the western and eastern Empire both, through the fall of Rome, the rise of Islam (certainly the most obvious and successful Jesus-respecting Unitarian monotheists to challenge the “stamp” of orthodoxy), and into the medieval period more-or-less. Constantine’s own immediate Imperial successors “challenged” it, throughout most of the 4th century.

Buzzard also implies (wrongly) that the Roman Catholic Church instituted the notion of the pope at the time of Constantine, and thus controlled the appointment of the bishops. Whereas until about the time of the fall of Rome a couple hundred years later, bishops ran for election and were voted on by their local populations. (This is why dissenting bishops were ‘banished’, whether by the orthodox or by the Arians: they were relocated somewhere else in the Empire away from the people who had voted them into office. Often the bishops chose to go into monastery seclusion, which was very popular among clergy at the time, and was considered to be the apex of religious devotion.)

Incidentally, it was the neo-Arian Christians who teamed up with the pagans to overthrow the Western Empire; again, “challenging” the “stamp” of orthodoxy quite thoroughly (as the Christ-respecting Unitarian Muslims finally managed to do to the capital of the Eastern Empire one thousand years later, after centuries of trying). Not that Rome (or Byzantium) was saintly; far from it. But the actual history is rather more complex and nuanced than this video is presenting.

Greer avers that beliefs about Christ were “built up” by tradition and by the Creeds. He does not explain how ‘tradition’, by definition a process of conservation that attempts to retain the status quo, managed to act like innovation. (Innovation builds things up. Tradition, per se, does not.) The Creeds, meanwhile, report and codify what was already believed to be true by that time, and what had been debated and defended. The orthodox position was always being refined and clarified in distinction from other positions, much as the other positions typically staked their claims in distinction from the orthodox party. But orthodoxy’s champions were constantly complaining about innovation by the other guys, or about the other guys not including as much of the received data as the orthodoxy party was including. There were also disputes about how most logically to include and reconcile the received data. But it was always about the received data. (This is absolutely not mentioned by Greer or anyone else during the first hour.)

Buzzard returns to complain that the orthodox party insisted that anyone who disagreed with them could not be considered to be in agreement with their group. Buzzard calls this “gang warfare”.

Buzzard briefly mentions 1 Tim 2:5, as representative of the true orthodoxy (to which ‘orthodoxy’ is “heresy”, as he says--and as of course it would have to be, if trinitarianism is in error). There are many interesting issues about the passage--none of which are discussed by Buzzard, who simply presents it like a prooftext, leaving the impression there is nothing more to say about it. (He also emphatically interpolates the phrase “the Father” into the text, when the text doesn’t say this. A tolerably detailed check of the interpretive issues surrounding the verse would reveal why he has to salt it with that interpolation, by the way.)

Thus ends “Act III”, with the question, “regardless of how a Roman Emperor oversaw a period of its development, and regardless of how church councils have treated the issues for hundreds of years” (which is also the same as saying the video is not going to bother to go into the actual rationales of the hundreds of years of disputation from Constantine onward, contenting itself with sheer innuendo), “how do modern supporters of the Trinity doctrine defend their faith?”

One might have thought that this would be important to be discussing in detail long before now! Or at least discussing in detail how Unitarians exegetically build their case first (which, in detail, has barely occurred), if they preferred to go first.

So, after 37 minutes of talking about trinitarianism in as little detail as possible (and Unitarianism not much more), including a whole section where the topic of Trinitarian rationales was utterly avoided, something more than micro-snippets of substantial discussion might be entered into.

Summary comments on “Act IV”

The next Act begins with the narrator opening a discussion of the term AeLoHiYM (or Elohim afterward), the most frequently used word for God in the Jewish Scriptures. The narrator demonstrates first that Elohim is certainly used as a name for God (by quoting the first verse of the Judeo-Christian Bible, Gen 1:1, “In the beginning God [Elohim] created the heavens and the earth”), and then demonstrates that the word is certainly plural by showing how it is also used for sometimes describing angels and judges. (Though I think the intent of the demonstration was supposed to be that it’s occasionally used for not-God entities.)

Rabbi Goldmark returns to mention some of the other names for God in the Hebrew Bible, such as Adonai (the second most popular name for God in the Bible, also a special plural form of a word, used only in reference to God as such), YHWH (the pronunciation of which is lost, though it is linked in Hebrew tradition to the self-declaration of God “I AM THAT I AM” which is not merely one I AM though that is also used on occasion), and Shaddai (an adjective roughly meaning “of hosts”, sometimes modifying El, an ancient singular name of God, or of a deity in general outside the OT, though not as popularly used in Scripture as Elohim. Both words are connected in pre-Hebraic languages to ‘sky’ or ‘heaven’, which is one reason why linguists recognize that the common phrase “kingdom of heaven” in the Gospels is a synonym for “kingdom of God”--especially in GosMatt where the plural form is retained in the Greek grammar, “kingdom of Elohim”. Very little of this is mentioned in the video in the first hour.)

Goldmark allows that Elohim has a plural ending but insists that it refers to a single divine entity; which of course Trinitarians agree with, despite Goldmark’s assertion that we use it to substantiate a belief in multiple Gods. He doesn’t mention here that Adonai is also plural; nor mentions the interesting plural connections in the other two names he gave for God; nor mentions that the name-titles Maker and Creator are sometimes used in plural for God across a wide band of texts (though the usage is much rarer than Elohim, Adonai or YHWH); nor mentions that verbs in relation to this plural-title-name trend tend to be plural, too, as do the pronouns.

Goldmark’s explanation for how (non-Trinitarian) Jews deal with these facts? “We just ignore it.”

Quickly moving after his “we just ignore it” shrug, the video cuts to Greer talking about Elohim. He compares the usage to how we speak of another singular-plural, “the news”. He does not try to claim that when we treat this as a singular group we obviously only mean one single new thing to hear and nothing more than that one in any way. He does however say that we use our grammar to indicate one item of “news” or multiple items of “news”. He does not note that Hebrew tends to use plural grammar when talking about Elohim and Adonai as God. (He does try to imply that they only use singular grammar when speaking of Elohim as God. He does not note that using singular grammar, too, in relation to a plural name-title, would strengthen the orthodox exegetical case, not weaken it!)

Back to Goldmark, who brings up the concept of the royal plural as a modern pronoun usage. He does not mention that the concept is restricted to pronouns in direct discourse, and developed very much later than the authorship of the Hebrew scriptures, after Trinitarian Christianity was well-underway. He also does not mention that no royal human in the scriptures, Jew or pagan, speaks of himself (or herself) in royal-plural pronouns; much less speaks of himself using other plurals. Nor does he mention that Queen Elizabeth does not refer to herself as Queens; nor do authors speaking of her refer to her as Elizabeths, or use plural pronouns in regard to her. He does mention that some people don’t accept that the plural names, verbs and pronouns used with much popularity in the Scriptures, are not an example of the modern royal-plural.

The narrator comments that Elohim is therefore less than persuasive “as a prooftext for the Trinity”. He also tacitly implies that the use of the plural Elohim as a name for God is restricted to Gen 1:1.

Moving away from any further discussion of Divine Titles in the Old Testament (until very much later in the first hour anyway), the narrator introduces John 1:1. Professor Buzzard (incorrectly) tries to claim that “most of the so-called prooftexts” for trinitarianism “are drawn from one Gospel”--"and that in itself is suspect,” he adds. (Someone familiar with the literature would suspect Professor Buzzard is not familiar with the exegetical literature among “the scholarly folk”, which ranges all over the Old and New Testaments both, quite literally “from beginning to end” as he wryly chides us for supposedly not doing.)

I can’t quite make out what he’s saying about the Synoptics--I've listened to it several times, something about how they clearly tell us the Son of God was created “in the movie’s monk” (???)--but obviously he thinks there are no deity references there, “no question”.

So, to begin actually discussing John 1:1, Buzzard opens by noting (as if this was clearly a point for his side) that the verse is talking about “the Word” and doesn’t use the term “the Son”. (This is correct.) He also claims that Trinitarians are reading “the Son” there. (This is wildly incorrect. Although that would admittedly be like adding “the Father” to 1 Tim 2:5.)

Buzzard correctly notes that the word {logos} is used very often in the OT; and claims that it never means a person. This might of course be trumped by New Testament usage indicating that the Memra of God (the special OT concept connected to “Word of God” usage in New Testament scripture) is somehow a person and is somehow God. (Which the first chapter of GosJohn specifically does; the prologue to GosLuke similarly indicates that the Logos is a person.)

Would educated Jews in Jesus’ day think of the Memra of God as being God, personally? We know as a matter of fact that in the intertestamental period, the single most common designation for God, personally, in the Targum commentaries, was “the Memra of God”. It was very frequent, to give the most immediately pertinent example, for the Targumists to substitute “the Memra of God” for “Elohim” when quoting or referencing Genesis 1:1. The topic could be entered into at vast length; but rightly or wrongly, John is echoing a very common Jewish rabbinic commentary practice, where God Himself is called “the Memra of God”.

Buzzard doesn’t mention any of that, but explains that this was a thought of God, and that John only meant “the gospel”. (Buzzard doesn’t mean this in the sense of a text we’d call “a Gospel”.) This requires Buzzard to try to claim (very incorrectly) that the proper translation of the end of 1:1 is “it was God”, though even that would hardly seem to help; but the Greek is very clear about repeating the term again: “and the Word (not the eua(n)gelos, nor a version of “it”) was (emphatically) God.” There are no variants to speak of in the various textual sources.)

This also requires him to pretend that personal references to the Word begin with “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us), though in fact personal pronouns are used in regard to the Word for at least four verses previously. Buzzard does not mention that everything came into being through the Word and apart from it not even one thing has come into being (possibly because this is clearly divine-characteristic language, which would make even less sense applied to “the gospel”.) In fact, most of the hymnal language is ignored, including the climax where the only-begotten God, in the bosom of the Father, explains the God Whom no one has ever seen.

Colin Brown from Fuller University returns, to also talk about the beginning of GosJohn. He doesn’t say much substantially different from Buzzard (e.g., “Some Christians must be surprised when they open their Bibles and read ‘In the beginning was the Word’” instead of seeing ‘the Son’ or “worse” ‘Jesus’.

Brown does try to claim that if Jesus was the Word then that would be the same as “denying the humanity of Jesus”. Actually, it would be the same as affirming that God became Man. Docetists deny the humanity of Jesus, as do some other modalists. Trinitarians do not deny the humanity of Jesus. It is a category error to keep painting us that way.

Interestingly, Brown does admit that the Logos was eternal, and became flesh and dwelt among us as Jesus. He does not (unlike Buzzard) try to come up with something that the eternal Logos was supposed to be other than (as the GosJohn text emphatically puts it) God.

I will add that although the Johannine Prologue is certainly very suggestive (moreso than either of these commentators has let on), the Prologue is only a small part of the total trinitarian case. I could easily delete it from the Bible and still have a comprehensive exegetical result. But as long as it is there, why not thoroughly discuss it in the video, as well as its links to the opening statements of the first Johannine Epistle? (The first hour’s discussion of the Johannine Epistle is limited to the brief forged Trinitarian proclamation.)

Rather than discussing the prologue in more particular detail, as Trinitarians do, much less discussing it in conjunction with the first Johannine Epistle, as Trinitarians do, much much less discussing it in conjunction with things reportedly said by Jesus Himself later in GosJohn, as Trinitarians do… the video leaves the prologue behind and moves on to “the third prooftext”, Psalm 110:1. The video apologists content themselves with noting that medieval Jewish rabbis, 1500 years after Psalm 110:1 was written (and more than 1000 years after the New Testament authors referred to it) invented vowel-marker pointings and assigned one to ADNY in this verse so that it doesn’t read Adonai but Adonei instead. (Except they don’t mention some of that detail.)

None of the linguistic habits of Biblical authors regarding ADNY that might suggest something was weird in its application here, are discussed; much less any of the very strong evidence that Jesus and the New Testament authors after him thought that a double-meaning of Adonai and Adonei was being intended there. Buzzard does talk about the theological differences in an exalted merely human man being our one and only Savior from sin instead of God. (Well, no, he doesn’t put it that way. More like, isn’t it great that a human could be so perfect and chosen for such high authority? So let’s strive to be like him!) Also he quips about how it couldn’t be YHWH talking to Adonai, because then the universe would crack apart or something, ha! (Not exactly the most precise metaphysical argument, even in this video.)

Having neglected to discuss almost any of the issues surrounding Psalm 110:1 (yet, anyway), the video wastes time on beating the dead horse of the 1 John 5:7 Trinitarian interpolation, which can only be traced back to the days of the emergence of Islam (in the margins of some Latin texts). Further back than most people are aware, but not remotely far enough back to be original to the text.

Which has long ceased to be a Trinitarian “prooftext”. But just in case anyone is still using it, they utterly demolish it anyway. (While trying to make it seem like it’s a big gun in the arsenal. Buzzard doesn’t mention that when “all scholars” know about it being a forgery and “all modern Bibles” refusing to include it as original, that includes Trinitarian scholars and Bibles, too.)

1 Tim 3:16 is mentioned as “very suspect”, too. Not quite the same thing here, however: some late manuscripts amend “God” for the pronoun “Who”. “Who” is Paul talking about, though (apparently referencing a Christian hymn)? Paul is talking about some “great secret of devoutness, who was manifested in flesh, justified by spirit, seen by messengers, heralded among the nations, believed in the world, and taken up into glory.”

The nearest name who matches the “Who” is… well… “the living God, the pillar and base of the truth”! Christ Jesus is mentioned a little earlier, too, (with another mention of God between, in relation to “God’s house” where the congregation meets); where it says that those who serve ideally are procuring for themselves an ideal rank and much boldness in the faith: that which is in Christ Jesus.

Speaking as a devout monotheist who believes in God and places my ultimate faith in God, I would be extremely edgy about putting my religious faith in a man who was only a human man (even if a divinely authorized one). I don’t put my religious faith in Moses, for example.

Buzzard (who is leading the charge in this portion), brings up the interesting note that judges could be called “god” and Moses could be called “god”, in the Old Testament. True (though he doesn’t mention the contexts, one of which returns to cause some very interesting trouble later); the term is also used of angels, for that matter. But they weren’t set up with the divine names reserved for God, and they didn’t claim to be a Shema unity with God, and they aren’t credited with the unique characteristics of God (all things cohere together through Moses from the beginning!?!). And I don’t recall being asked to put my religious faith, reserved for the one-God, in a judge. Or Moses. Or an angel. Or a priest. Or anyone else other than God. And Christ Jesus who, like God, is our one and only Savior. (But one and only has to mean Jesus is more than merely ‘like’ God. The Hebraist has a lot to say about this, in his NT epistle.)

Buzzard calls this being referred to as ‘god’ in “a secondary sense”. So, as a devout monotheist, I am expected to put my religious faith not only in God but in a man who is only called a god in a secondary sense?

Because that is what the apologists of this video are evangelizing about.

(Though no one has put it that bluntly yet so far.)

Buzzard rightly notes that even Jesus calls the Father God; so that the Father is God even to Jesus. Well, yes, Trinitarians believe that, too. (As amusing as Buzzard thinks the notion is.) This is not really a problem for Trinitarian metaphysics, so long as the metaphysic isn’t reduced to bi (or tri) theism. Which Trinitarians explicitly reject. But which Buzzard keeps trying to make it out to be.

The video proceeds to discuss John 10:30. Buzzard entirely ignores the local and extended narrative contexts for this scene. He does however correctly note that Jesus also says later in GosJohn chapter 17 (and correctly notes that Jesus says it twice in that chapter) that he prays and hopes and trusts that his father will bring his disciples to be one with him in accord as he is one with the Father.

Is this a problem for orthodox Trinitarians? No; we understand the distinction involved, which is the kind of distinction referenced in RevJohn chapter 4: the servants of the Son may be sharing His throne as He shares the throne with the Father, but worship is given to the Son, and Divine Names are professed of the Son, and Divine attributes are recognized of the Son. Not of the faithful servants with whom He shares His throne.

Moreover, the rabbis threatening to stone Jesus for declaring “I and the Father are one”, understood the implications, too, from their larger context (which is also available to us in the witness of the Gospels).

Interestingly, even Buzzard (when rhaphsodizing about how great a thing this is for a mere human to be) understands that there’s some kind of strong distinction involved between the one-ness of Christ with the Father and our one-ness with Christ and the Father. One might have thought, from what he was saying, that potentially we could be just like the merely human servant Jesus one day and that this is what Jesus is hoping for. Then, however, Buzzard corrects himself: not that we can ever be like Jesus, of course...

(Buzzard doesn’t go into any detail, in the first hour, about how we can never be like Jesus, of course, if he is only a mere human like us.)

The video references the very blunt declaration of Thomas in GosJohn 20:29, “The Lord of me and the God of me!”

The Greek is very precise, here, concerning the declaration. And, as it happens, it formally matches similar declarations by people and authors in the Old Testament: declarations only made to God, and only made using Divine Names for God. The video doesn’t mention either of these factors.

Danny Dixon stumbles somewhat in trying to claim that Thomas could just as easily be saying that Jesus was “a mighty individual”. He doesn’t manage to find an example of where some merely human persons (singly or a as a group) are declared to be “the Lord of me and the God of me” in the formal declaration pattern of Biblical Hebrew. That includes his chosen reference, Psalm 82:6; which is terribly amusing. I’m thinking that if I wanted to find a parallel for Thomas’ formal declaration of the Godhood and Lordship of Jesus, in the OT scripture, applied to merely human people, I wouldn’t choose a non-parallel where God takes His stand among the unjust judges and rulers of the earth and calls them fallen gods! (After which God exhorts God to rise and judge the earth fairly! Note the link to Jesus’ complaint to His opponents, including His rebelling allies in GosJohn, that they are not judging fairly, but He is judging fairly.)

Epic. Fail.

Also, I’d be curious to know where {hos theos}, The God, is used as a blunt declarative for a merely human man in the NT aside from Jesus. Danny seems to think that would be quite in keeping with New Testament usage. After a brief “Hm” to think about it, he recalls that the unjust judges of Psalm 86 were called {theos}, though plural of course, in the Septuagint. No mention of whether they’re called {hos theos} in plural. No definite article in the GosJohn reference to that verse, by the way, either. Hm.

To say the least, Danny’s example is not something very much like what Thomas said of Jesus.

Dan Mages returns to take his swings at the same topic.

He doesn’t come up with a reference to merely human people being called, in the formal Hebrew fashion, “the Lord of me and the God of me”, either. He does come up with Psalm 45:6, where the plural Elohim is used of a single King whose throne is forever and ever, who is also called ADNY, who loves the bridal queen to whom the bridal-queen must bow to as her Lord.

It is exceedingly obvious, throughout the whole poem, that this is about only one king--except for the fact that this single king is called Elohim. In fact, according to the New Testament authors, the king is supposed to be Jesus Christ! (The Hebraist mentions this specifically, and claims the Father is calling the Son God here.)

It is, in fact, so blatantly obvious that this is about a single King, that the Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh doesn’t dare translate Elohim vocatively as “your throne O God” (the way it is translated in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and possibly in the LXX); but tries to translate the phrase “your divine throne”.

So, what does Dan Mages think about this blatantly obvious single (but about to be very ‘married’!) King being referred to by the plural name Elohim?

That it’s a group of kings.

Um. And. Why would he translate it that way? Well, because Elohim is plural. If he translated it as though it was singular, it would be the divine name of God! (Even the modern Hebrew vowel markings agree with that.) Why would that be so bad? Because then not only would Jesus Christ be given the divine-plural name of God (which maybe they could live with), but then they would have another Elohim (emphatically the Elohim of the Elohim who, singularly, is marrying Israel) talking to that Elohim and being the Elohim of that Elohim.

After which the universe would explode, or something, ha. (Per Buzzard earlier.)

To put it mildly: this is not a Psalm that Trinitarians need to be worried about. And considering how one of the apologists recently was remarking about reading presuppositions into the text, instead of out of it... well...

(Incidentally, Mages spends about two seconds discussing Psalm 45’s use of Elohim for “human kings”.)

Then Mages makes an even more astounding comparison: the Emperor Domitian was also called “god”.

His point might have been made better if he had said Tiberius was also called “god” (though I don’t recall that this was done while he was alive); since he was the Emperor on the throne at the time of the GosJohn scene with Thomas. (Domitian was on the throne at about the time many people think GosJohn was composed and/or finalized, 60 years or so after Jesus.) But, let the comparison stand. Because if there is anything that distinguishes good monotheistic Judaism (even of the non-Christian kind, but us too!) in the Roman Empire, it was their (and our) refusal to acknowledge any merely human ruler as Lord and God! Why? Because that would be polytheism. Unless He actually was God. And it would still be polytheism then, too, unless He was a Person of the one-God.

(My mind is still boggling that Mages would even try this comparison... The reference to 2 Cor 4:4 only makes his case worse, not better: “the god of this age” might be the Emperor, or might be Satan, St. Paul doesn’t actually say; but whoever he is, he is not to be worshiped! Moreover this mere not-God god distracts from Christ who is the image of God. There is only one way to put that contrast into a devotedly monotheistic format. And it isn’t by giving the title of ‘God’ to another mere non-God entity than ‘the god of this world’.)

The video moves on to Isaiah 9:6; the prophecy that someone would be born called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Father of-Everlasting (in Hebrew), Prince of Peace.

Greer’s up to bat on this one, and does a decent enough job giving the immediate historical context. Similarly, a little earlier in Isaiah, the son named Immanuel being born to a maiden wasn’t born to a virgin (but to a wife of Isaiah), wasn’t Jesus and wasn’t God Incarnate.

Except that there was eventually a virgin birth, that of Jesus; a real virgin birth that more literally fulfilled the already-fulfilled prophecy of Isaiah. (Buzzard already agreed that there was a real virgin birth earlier in the video.)

As long as the apologists are willing to grant that a prophecy can come true twice, and be more important (and even literally) true in regard to the Messiah--which they’re obviously willing to grant with the virgin birth of Christ--then there is not much point appealing to lesser-fulfillments by comparison.

Moreover, they had better be careful with how the divine titles are used in this portion. “Wonderful Counselor” uses the same name (‘wonderful’ or literally ‘unknowable’) that was used by an “angel of YHWH” Who appeared as a man in response to the prayers of Manoah and his wife to God (concerning the conception of her child, perhaps not-incidentally), Who rises in the flame of the offering they make to YHWH, and Who is given the Divine Plural name Elohim by the panicking husband when this happens. “We shall surely die!--WE HAVE SEEN ELOHIM!” (The wife comforts her husband, that if YHWH had wanted them dead He would not have accepted their sacrifice much less bothered to tell them about how to prepare her in her pregnancy.) While it might be said that the author doesn’t bother to correct their understandable mistake (except by continuing to call the entity an angel of YHWH, perhaps), nevertheless the same name is being given here for whoever this is that is to be born.

It gets worse (or better, depending on one’s perspective) when the name El NBWK is used. Because if this isn’t the name of God Almighty (in an admittedly unusual form), then this would not only be the only time in the Old Testament that the title-name “EL” is used for anyone other than YHWH (including in Isaiah), but then it would mean this EL NBWK is not the same EL NBWK a little later in Isaiah to whom a remnant of Jacob (rebel Israel) shall be returning--when they’re supposed to be leaning on YHWH, the Holy One of Israel! (They’re supposed to be returning to Nebuchadnezzar??)

This, however, isn’t Greer’s topic. In fact, he doesn’t start off discussing Isaiah 9:5 at all. He starts off discussing the Immanuel prophecy in 7:14. A lot happens in Isaiah between those two portions, though; enough that if the two prophecies weren’t later considered by Christian authors to have been fulfilled in Jesus, we probably wouldn’t even connect the characters! It is in Christ that the fuller fulfillment of those prophecies occurs.

(It’s kind of interesting that Greer thinks the Immanuel prophecy was fulfilled by Hezekiah. It seems obvious that at the time it was fulfilled by Isaiah’s first son, who was given that name!--but who certainly wasn’t King Hezekiah.)

Greer does eventually get around to the actual topic of this portion, Isaiah 9:5. For about ten seconds. The “technical term” that he says means only “divinely inspired” is still El; the name of God everywhere else. (The vowel pointers even agree. He doesn’t get to say what the technical term is, by the way.)

The video quickly jumps away from whatever Greer starts to say next, and cuts to some kind of conference somewhere (possibly the same “One God” conference in Tyler, TX, that the video takes some discussion from shortly afterward). Here a woman asks “If Jesus was not God, then what makes his sacrifice and dying important enough to cover the sins of all mankind?” (The video doesn’t explain what this has to do with exegetical commentary on Isaiah 9:5.)

A lecturer at a podium answers that the idea that God had to sacrifice Himself for our sins, is something that humans have brought to the discussion using human reason. Um. That’s typically a marker, meaning, “Well yes it makes logical sense somehow, otherwise we’d call it faulty reasoning, but we believe something else so we’re going to diss ‘human reasoning’ per se while reasoning out things ourselves over here as humans ourselves.” Considering that a significant amount of hay was churned an hour ago when the video apologists decried this tactic--which I agreed they were right to decry--my human reasoning is failing to figure out why I should accept the tactic now when they use it. (My human reason does however think it’s intriguing that we’ve cut to this dismissal of human reasoning, rather than actually discuss the divine titles applied to Jesus by extension from Isaiah 9:5.)

The video doesn’t report this lecturer’s actual answer to her actual question, though. Which, to repeat, was, “If Jesus isn’t God, then what makes his sacrifice and dying important enough to cover the sins of all mankind?” (I wouldn’t have put it quite that way myself, but still the answer to why a mere man’s sacrifice could be as important as the self-sacrifice of God Himself for our sakes, might have been interesting.)

Chuck Jones returns shortly before the end of the first hour, (at the main interview setting) to use some of his own human reasoning about what St. Paul says. (He does not mention how this connects to Trinitarian exegetical arguments from scripture, which they’re supposed to be discussing in this section.)

He mentions that Paul (from 1 Tim 2:5-6) considers Jesus to still be a man after the resurrection--as if Trinitarians were supposed to be denying that. (We don’t.) He doesn’t discuss (again) the things that could be discussed at length concerning 1 Tim 2:5-6 and its surrounding contexts. He also doesn’t answer the woman’s question about how a mere man’s sacrifice could be as important as the self-sacrifice of God Himself for our sakes. (He does think the Bible says that a mere man’s sacrifice was “good enough” somehow. He does not think much of “grandiose arguments” that might suggest otherwise.)

Some unlabelled person speaking at a table at the “One God Conference” in Tyler, Texas, now claims (at about the 1:00:00 mark) that what was important was God’s acceptance of the sacrifice, not what the sacrifice was. Aside from also not answering how this could be considered as important as the self-sacrifice of God Himself for our sakes, it leaves one wondering why God bothered to not consider lambs and so forth acceptable. (Especially since, on this speaker’s view, they were good enough before.)

A different man shows up at the same conference saying much the same thing, and not answering the same question. (Leaving much the same impression: bulls or doves or whatever were good enough before, as a sacrifice for sin, so God sent a merely human Jesus instead… um…)

“Act V” starts at around the halfway point, 1:01:10. But I haven’t watched it yet, much less worked up commentary analysis (much less summarized that commentary). It should be fairly noted that any or all lapses in the first hour might perhaps be discussed (whether at all, or more thoroughly) in the second half.

This week, however, I need to work on catching up on my novel-writing. {s}


Bobby said...

We deserve better from you! Don’t comment on the first half of the video with such voluminous verbiage that most, if not all, of the other bloggers will give up before they ever get to the end of your comments on the first half! Finish the video and then give us a one-page assessment! Executive summaries are much more effective than verbiage ad nauseam! I love you man, but you’ve got to shorten your responses!

When you've finished the video, I'll finish reading your "first-half" comments. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Jason. I have read a good portion of your answer to Bobby, and might finish it off later.

I tend to agree, though, with Bobby. A blog is a conversation, a dialogue. If I would have wanted a lecture or a book on the trinity, I could have listened to one or just baught one. The amount of words simply isn´t an argument, more of the opposite in fact. (Why do trinitarians have the need for all of these words and lectures to be able to defend the dogma?) The ability to listen, respond to each other and boil things down has more power in my ears (and I know you are able to do this too).

Jason Pratt said...

Jonas: {{Why do trinitarians have the need for all of these words and lectures to be able to defend the dogma?}}

Because there’s lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of material to be carefully considered. {s}

Bobby: {{We deserve better from you! Don’t comment on the first half of the video with such voluminous verbiage that most, if not all, of the other bloggers will give up before they ever get to the end of your comments on the first half!}}

My voluminous verbiage in the summary: 8730 words. Thirty minutes to an hour to read.

Ray Smith’s paper that you wanted us to read and give an opinion on: 10230 words (not counting the correspondence after the end of the paper) Thirty minutes to an hour to read.

The Human Jesus video: an hour, minimum, to listen to the first half.

Do either of you recall various people telling us things like “Don’t be so quick to put all your eggs in the trinitarian basket” and “orthodoxy has a lot of work to do in explaining why all the NT authors keep doing so-n-so instead of this-n-that?”

One of the routine tactics in the video (or in its first hour anyway) is to just barely touch on some issues, and then (after talking about that brief touch for various lengths of time) to move along without substantial discussion of the contexts, while giving the constant impression that trinitarians are doing even less than that. Except when the video’s apologists complain every once in a while about trinitarians doing vastly more than that, which they briefly dismiss in terms of populist rhetorical disdain without discussing the ‘vastly more’. (In the first hour anyway; they may do better in the second hour.)

I could add as well that there is almost no conversation per se in the video’s first hour, except where they think they’ve found straw men to whup on.

Gregory and I both cautioned (repeatedly) that this is a vastly huge topic that probably isn’t suitable for covering in any comprehensive manner in the comment thread of a web journal (especially a journal dedicated to a somewhat different topic.) But if I sit down to consider even one hour of a two-hour video, then I’m going to take notes, and actually consider the merits of what is being said at every point, and check again on the scriptural references (whether I’m thoroughly familiar with them or not) for wide and close examination of the various contexts involved. I actually turned up at least three things I hadn’t noticed before, by doing so. (Which pleases me immensely. {s!})

I spent a good twenty hours last week, at least, carefully working on paying attention to the video’s first hour--and also paying attention to things that the video barely (or never) pays attention to (during that first hour anyway). Other than the (relatively minor) fact that I could have been working similarly on my novel last week instead, I have no complaints. I’m entirely willing and prepared to discuss any of the points you wish in the first hour; and I’ve provided about an hour of complementary material in return so that you’ll be prepared ahead of time (if you care to be) with some idea of what I’m likely to be talking about on any particular point within that range. That way you won’t go into any discussion at a disadvantage from not having some idea ahead of time what my side of things is going to be.

Or, if you’d rather not, that’s okay, too--I’ve already made good use of the exercise, so (again) I have no complaints.

{{The ability to listen, respond to each other and boil things down has more power in my ears (and I know you are able to do this too).}}

Actually, I listened, responded to the video (which is what I was asked to pay attention to and respond to), and then boiled down my response by more than 60% (eliminating most of my actual arguments in the process, by the way). The full text is constantly referring to the video in an ongoing dialogue with what’s going on and being said in the video. (Insofar as there can be any ‘dialogue’ with a video recording, of course.)

I would have been glad to do the same with either of you at any time, and in fact did do the same with you both at various times. If you present the video as being a two-hour monologue (or one hour, considering the first half), on your position, instead of bringing up the issues yourselves in commentary dialogue, I’m not sure why I’m being reprimanded for doing what I was asked to do: engaging the material you gave in an in-depth analytical dialogue with that material. In effect you asked me to go have an exchange with Professor Buzzard and several other apologists who bring up a wide set of topics. So, that’s what I’ve done, very carefully and thoroughly.

A half-page assessment of the first hour is going to sound a lot like I simply dismissed things without due consideration, and it will certainly not be more in dialogue with the video (much less give more specific rationales than a 38% summary of the analysis.)

I don’t like doing it, because I don’t think it’s fair to the video to do so. But if that’s what you wanted, I’ll post up a half-page summary of the first hour in the following comment.


Jason Pratt said...

In the first hour of the video The Human Jesus, various apologists mention the Shema while being very misleading about the common meaning of one of the words. They mention the plural names of the singular God only to dismiss this with a “we just ignore it” shrug (or with reference to the modern development of the royal plural in Christian kingdoms which is only barely similar). One apologist admits that multiple distinct Persons of a singular God can be philosophically coherent while constantly pretending elsewhere that it isn’t. All apologists routinely misrepresent trinitarianism as tri-theism, even when (every once in a while) they admit that there’s a distinction. All apologists set up a false dichotomy between a merely human or a divine Jesus, and routinely misrepresent trinitarianism as if it involves denying Jesus’ humanity instead of affirming it. A bare handful of scriptural references are discussed without context as if they prove trinitarianism false; and not many more scriptural references are discussed as trinitarian “prooftexts”, with equally little contextual analysis, as if trinitarians base their exegetical position on only these few references. The history of orthodoxy from Constantine onward is misleadingly discussed. A handful of unnamed people at a unitarian conference avoid explaining how a mere man’s sacrifice could be as theologically important as the self-sacrifice of God Himself for our sakes, leaving the impression that a bull or a dove would have done just as well.

JRP (one-half page report of the first hour, per request)

Anonymous said...

Jason. I wouldn´t have recommended the video in the way Bobby did in this forum for the reasons you mention.

The problem in responding to your comment is where to begin. It´s impossible to have a real dialogue with this amount of material. (And I am still impressed with your work and that you are taking this issue so serious!)

Anyway, I´ll just start somewhere.

I have only read a few academical points in Hebrew, so I have to trust others on this one, I cannot evaluate what you say about Echad, for me it´s word against word. Some questions though;

-Did the jews at the time of Jesus or before interpret the word the way you do? If not, why?

-Even if you were right, this wouldn´t be a proof for the trinitarian teaching as I see it. You could also interpret it along modalistic lines. Personally, I have no problems with seeing different (coherent) aspects/roles within God, but I remain an agnostic as to the question about if and what to call these ("persons"?). In my reading of the NT, there seems to be, maybe, some kind of three-ness in the way God acts towards his creation, that might (probably?) correspond to God´s inner being in some way. I just don´t see the use of speculating about those things very much.

Anonymous said...

Jason. I also agree with your point that trinitarianism wasn´t what the "one-God" dogma where fighting in it´s historical context. Thanks for pointing this out. That said, I think many people in the church not trained theologically (in the academy), would have a picture of roughly God along tritheistic lines. At least, this is my experience.("God" is to many people simply the name given to a team consisting of three separate divine individuals, united by there common project.) And I think the usefulness of a doctrine has to be tested by how well it works in giving people a picture of God that corresponds to scripture. Because of this, I think the charge of triteism might still have some validity.

Jason Pratt said...


{{The problem in responding to your comment is where to begin.}}

I can very much sympathize. {s} Keep in mind though that (as odd as this will sound), my comment was largely restricted to talking about the video portions in their particularities.

{{Did the jews at the time of Jesus or before interpret the word the way you do?}}

That depends on the scope of your question. If you mean, did Jews at the time of Jesus or before interpret AeCHaD to mean a compound singularity, the answer is obviously yes: there are very many undisputed examples of this in the Hebrew Bible itself.

If you mean, did Jews in the days before Jesus interpret that word to mean a compound singularity in reference to God, the answer then depends on which Jews. Popularly the answer would I think be no, largely because they were (rightly) taught to reject polytheism and wouldn’t be in a position to understand the distinctions involved.

Various Biblical authors, on the other hand, switch back and forth between talking about God in obviously plural terms (not only in regard to various plural-names of God) and in obviously single terms (like El, for example), while still treating even the plural grammar references as applying to the one creator God. Did they interpret it in the sense of understanding that they were testifying to multiple Persons of a singular God? Probably not, in most cases, would be my educated guess, and for basically the same reason: they wouldn’t be in a position to distinguish between polytheism (which they had been stringently warned against, and for which Israel was always being stringently punished) and distinct multiple Persons of a singular God. (No more than they would have been easily prepared for a virgin birth, despite hints in this direction scattered through the scriptures, too: it looks too much like pagan polytheistic myths at first glance.)

What’s even more interesting (to me anyway {g}) is that the plural names and grammar usages for God routinely and commonly continue throughout all levels of Scripture, despite the stringent warnings and punishments (some of them cataclysmic) against polytheism.

There are, however, occasional situations scattered throughout the OT scriptures where various authors do treat God as speaking to God or otherwise behaving as though one person of God is interacting with another person of God. (The video apologists themselves inadvertently make reference to at least two of those places, in different Psalms, #45 and #82; though they don’t discuss the God-Addressing-God notion of either Psalm, their purpose for referencing being somewhat different. Or anyway, it wasn’t discussed in the first hour.) At the very least, these authors are engaging in a poetic conceit that can only be based on the common scriptural habit of using plural as well as singular grammatic references to the one-God.

What about during the intertestamental period? There again we find some rabbis (or intertestamental authors anyway) developing what we could call proto-orthodoxy. Verses dealing (apparently) with God are, with some frequency, assigned to the Messiah in a fashion conjunctive with God; the Messiah is presented as being a supernatural and sinless being who pre-existed from all eternity who will come bearing the names and attributes of God to set Israel free from sin and its curse; and by far the most common way of referring to God Himself in the Targum-commentaries on the Torah (replacing Biblical divine-name instances) becomes “the Memra/Word of God”. This might be considered poetic hyperbole, and I think it can be said that it doesn’t go nearly as far as the New Testament material (usually?), but the material is in fact there. Does it represent what the common people on the ground believed? It represents what they were being taught, anyway.

(Interestingly, the maximal divine-claims being made for the Messiah in the intertestamental period tend to eclipse the prosaic humanity of the Messiah in a fashion that doesn’t occur in the New Testament, where both the prosaic humanity and the if-anything-even-more-maximal-deity references both appear.)

Most important, of course, is the question of how Jesus and his (or His {g}) disciples (once they start teaching and writing in an authoritative fashion) treat the relationship of God to the Messiah, including in how they treat Old Testament references. I discuss NT references of the video in great detail in my original notes (very much further than any of the apologists ever do, in the first hour anyway); and that commentary could be vastly expanded upon in regard to many many more verses.

Psalm 110:1, however, is typical: Jesus and the NT authors who refer to it, treat it as being some kind of double-meaning riddle that is solved in the person of Jesus both as Adonai and as Adonei: as the Lord God and as my-human-lord, both. (Yet still distinct from another Person of God, as we would now put it.) That’s also how Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin treat Jesus’ treatment of the ADNY riddle, too, when they condemn Jesus to death for blasphemy. Jesus keeps telling them (especially in the ‘back-channel’ commentary preserved in GosJohn) that they of all people ought to have been prepared for this; moreover, he treats them as though they do in fact know his claims are true but they just don’t want to accept it because they want God to have a different character than Jesus has. (That’s a main Synoptic theme, too.)

{{Even if you were right, this wouldn´t be a proof for the trinitarian teaching as I see it. You could also interpret it along modalistic lines.}}

A point I made sure to mention in my main commentary, where applicable. I also point out, numerous times, that trinitarians don’t base our exegetical case on a handful of data here and there. We take very seriously the evidence of the Son and the Father (and the Spirit for that matter, though there’s naturally less of that kind of textual evidence) interacting with one another, even when the Son is not incarnated, in a way that would only be a sham (at best) under modalism.

{{Personally, I have no problems with seeing different (coherent) aspects/roles within God}}

Me neither. But I can affirm that sort of thing while also affirming real distinct persons in operation.

{{I just don´t see the use of speculating about those things very much.}}

The exegetical case isn’t based so much on speculation as on narrative and linguistic context usage (also theological context to some extent). However, if by “the use” you mean ‘why would it be important’--that’s a metaphysical question. And one I never knew (or even heard about) any answers to myself until I started studying the issues more closely.

One major importance has to do with ethical theory. A multi-Personal single ultimate Fact of all reality, uniquely solves the Euthyphro Dilemma regarding the character of objective justice. That isn’t a discussion held in the Scriptures, but it’s a discussion solved by the unique religious testimony of the Judeo-Christian scriptures. Relatedly, and as I’ve mentioned before, I wouldn’t be nearly so certain that universalism is true, if I didn’t first believe orthodox trinitarianism is true. (Relatedly again, when I find even nominally orthodox authors denying universalism, I also tend to find them denying some element of orthodox Christian theism along the way.)

My hope, for sinners and against sin, is ultimately grounded in my belief that God is intrinsically love: a belief that non-universalists sooner or later also tend to deny. But that profession about God isn’t going to be true unless the single God is an active interpersonal relationship in His own eternally active self-existence. Anything less, is less.

{{I think many people in the church not trained theologically (in the academy), would have a picture of roughly God along tritheistic lines.}}

I agree, and said so in my original comments. Or they’ll have a picture of God roughly along Arian or neo-Arian lines. Even people who are trained theologically in the academy (and I stress that lapse for fairness’ sake) can slip pretty easily into one or the other kind of profession, when they wouldn’t intend to do so. (As noted above, I often find them doing this when they’re trying to deny universalism.) It’s a very complex position, and it isn’t easy to keep all the details in mind. But it’s a very complex position with a lot of details because (on the one hand) the scriptural testimony is so complex and multi-faceted (so to speak {g}); and also (on the other hand) because when one sits down to start hashing out metaphysical issues, there are a lot of topics to decide beliefs about in this-or-that way. Which leads, from that other direction, to the same equally complex and nuanced picture.

Allow me to reiterate here, though, something that I even managed to include in the 38% summary in favor of the video apologists. Namely, that a person’s doctrinal profession of this belief, or of any belief, is not the key or litmus test of that person’s salvation. This is not a scriptural teaching (despite some routinely misunderstood appearances otherwise here and there), nor is it metaphysically defensible. I suspect a lot of what drives the video’s efforts (Professor Buzzard briefly says as much once or twice himself) is opposition to a technical heresy that orthodox proponents ought not to be advocating but have often advocated anyway: the heresy of gnosticism, salvation by doctrinal knowledge.

As far as that goes, I have no dissension against the video apologists at all. But there is no intrinsic connection between that heresy and trinitarian Christian orthodoxy. (Much the reverse.)

{{And I think the usefulness of a doctrine has to be tested by how well it works in giving people a picture of God that corresponds to scripture.}}

That’s rather like trying to critique neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory by noting that most people, even when they’re trying to believe it, tend to think in terms of saltationism or lamarckism or something of that sort. But the actual theory has to be critiqued, pro or con, on its own terms. Not as something else. Popular misunderstandings can be annoying as a practical matter, but are technically irrelevant, pro or con.


Bobby said...

Here it comes…another apology. I’ve got to stop responding until I’ve read your posts at least two or three times, no matter how long they are. You are incredibly thorough in your analysis and that requires lots of words and there’s no way around it. Thanks for the executive summary…I now see why you felt that kind of response would not be adequate.

I really do appreciate all the time and effort you’ve given to comment on both Ray’s paper and the video…what a wonderful gift! Your case for trinitarianism is substantial and your metaphysical arguments really do resonate with me. You have most certainly expanded my understanding of this vast subject!

You are the first person I’ve met who has identified the heresy of Gnosticism in the modern church…I’ve been teaching that for several years now.

Again, thank you so much for enriching my life!

Anonymous said...

Jason. To teach that one can be saved without accepting the trinitarian teaching, to me seems to be heresy (at least in those tradition that accepts the creed):
1. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith;

2. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

3. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

4. Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

5. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.

As to psalm 45 and 82, I am quite surprised that you are using these as some kind of evidence for a pluraty inside God. The common (and easiest) interpretation on Psalm 45 is that it´s a psalm used in connection with the crowning of the (definitely pure human) king. The king is called god in the OT, not because having a "divine substance", but because he is acting as God´s representative. To interpret Psalm 82 is a bit more problematic, some regard it as God speaking to an assembly of angels, some see a rest of polytheism here (I don´t find the right word, but I mean the belief that there are other gods, but that JHV is the highest one, and the only God of Israel). And Jesus himself, in his interpretation (John 10), clearly doesn´t view the other "gods" of the psalm as a plurality of persons within JHV.

Jason Pratt said...


The (so-called) Athanasian Creed (which postdates the modified Chalcedonian council) does include a number of ‘wrappers’ that enforce the idea of ‘believe this or else!’ The Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds do not.

More importantly, though, the concept of salvation by acceptance of teaching is not in any way connected technically to the precepts of trinitarian theology. The most that can be said in favor of it, is that it could be derived from a misunderstanding of what is being taught in the New Testament occasionally; a misunderstanding exacerbated by another misunderstanding, that of considering the scriptures to be in themselves the Logos or Memra of God. (Incidentally, Professor Buzzard rightly derides this notion in the video’s first hour.)

That misunderstanding, however, is something that would be a natural risk of the early 1st century rabbinic (and then Christian/NT) habit of referring to God Himself as the Word of God. This extremely common pre-Christian rabbinic habit made such a difference within Judaism that later rabbis began to make freakishly exalted claims about the Torah: that all things were made for the Law, that the Law existed before all things, that the Law is so important that God Himself spends a few hours every day studying it and summons rabbis from Earth to render judgments on it...

Christians didn’t go that far in their treatment of the scriptures. But I expect it was because they were already going that far in their treatment of a man. (Except that they didn’t try to put the Son above the Father in the way that some rabbis tried to honor the Torah.)

What Christians did do with the scriptures was the same that they did with the doctrinal set they were working out the details of: they treated disloyalty to the scriptures and to the doctrines as being tantamount to idolatry. In doing so they inadvertently instituted idolatry of those doctrines and scriptures.

And by “they” I do mean the orthodox, my own group. I understand the expediency of doing it, but I cannot agree with the doctrine of doing it--but I disagree with the doctrine of doing it on orthodox grounds as an internal critique. (The GosJohn author treats “the Jews” in a similar fashion.)

{{The common (and easiest) interpretation on Psalm 45 is that it´s a psalm used in connection with the crowning of the (definitely pure human) king.}}

The king is definitely fully human, no doubt about that. However, it should be noted that the video had a serious problem interpreting that Psalm, as does the Jewish Publication Society in their Tanahk (which I use as a standard reference, btw.) The video apologists try to make the reference out to be “kings” in the plural, despite the Psalm being quite obviously about a single (though about to be very ‘married’! {g}) king. Why do they do that? Because the king is called “Elohim”, one of the plural titles for God (and used indisputably as such later in the same Psalm, not-incidentally, as everyone on all sides of the aisle agrees.)

The JPS, on the other hand, understands that they don’t dare render “Elohim” to mean “gods” in reference to that single king, because then the human king would be given a name reserved for God. So they try to avoid the vocative sense of the phrase and render it “your divine throne” instead.

This is also one of the few times that a Biblical author encourages the faithful Jewish reader (the bride is clearly Israel typologically) to treat a human man as “your lord”; and it’s done so in context of that human man being given the most common name for God in the OT. When one recalls that in the original Hebrew the description ADNY could be read either as Adonai (the second most common OT name of God, this one reserved indisputably for God, and also a plural term by the way) or as Adonei (or the second-person version of Adonei rather, “your lord”, so the vowel at the end wouldn’t be and isn’t {ei}), then the double-meaning interpretation looks even stronger.

Typologically, the poem is about God specially marrying Israel (though still being the husband of all other people, too). But if the poem is taken typologically, then later in the poem God is acknowledging God to be God and is interacting with God as if multiple persons of God are involved. If ADNY is interpreted to mean a human king, then the human king is being vocatively appealed to as God using the same divine-name title that God is being addressed with (including in reference to that king) in the last half of the poem.

There are, in short, reasons why unitarian monotheists can be willing to go pretty far out of their way to avoid what you’re calling the commonest and easiest interpretation.

Meanwhile, the Hebraist (author of the Epistle to the Hebrews) in the New Testament, treats the vocative address to the king as being by God the Father to the Son Whom He (the Father) calls “O God Whose throne endures forever”. This is done as part of the Hebraist’s opening scriptural argument about treating the (avowedly human) Christ in any fashion less than he deserves.

The king in the Psalm is certainly acting as representative of God the Father, and is certainly a distinct person from God the Father. But he is doing so in a fashion far exceeding what is expected of merely human representatives of God. After a while, the question has to be raised: if a not-God entity is being given worship and names and attributes and loyalty typically reserved for God, then why is this not idolatry?

That’s precisely why non-Christian Jews prefer to render Elohim as an English adjective instead of a vocative (even while printing the modern vowel-pointers as a vocative-noun), in regard to that king.

{{(I don´t find the right word, but I mean the belief that there are other gods, but that JHV is the highest one, and the only God of Israel}}

I think that’s called “henotheism”, and yes it’s basically the cosmology of both Old and New Testaments. (Though henotheism doesn’t strictly have to involve the kind of ontological difference we and the scriptural authors recognize God to have in relation to even other supernatural entities.)

Whether verses Psalm 82:6-7 are about human judges or angels or gods, is irrelevant to the question of God addressing God in this Psalm: those entities clearly are not the Elohim, because they’re freaking rebels! {g} (The video, in the first hour, references those verses to mean merely human judges, by the way. And neglects to mention their condemned rebel status. Though that rebel status is certainly why Jesus, in his reference in John 10, doesn’t view those ‘gods’ as being in any way YHWH.)

The relevant question is, who is vocatively addressing God in verse 8?--Who is certainly to be identified as the God in verse 1 standing among the assembly of EL, pronouncing judgment on rebel elohim. The grammar of the Psalm could be read any of several ways, including with everything from verse 2 onward being the judgment of God on the rebel elohim. The JPS renders it so that Asaph (the Psalmist) is who mistook the rebel elohim for elohim. Jesus, in his reference to this in GosJohn, presents it as God speaking to the rebels. Does the speaking stop with 6 and 7, returning to the Psalmist ending out with verse 8? Or does God call upon God to arise and judge the earth and all the nations in His possession?

RevJohn 11:15 represents this verse as applying to the Lord God Almighty, with names and characteristics of God--and to the Messiah who sits simultaneously on the throne of God receiving the worship and names of God, and having the characteristics of God (as long-since established earlier in RevJohn). Moreover, the NT authors agree that it is Christ who, as the Son, possesses and judges the world as God does in the Old Testament, even though they also clearly distinguish between the persons of the Father and the Son. (One relevant distinction being that the Father gives all this to the Son, who in turn gives it to the Father.)

Insofar as Psalm 82 by itself goes, the question of who is speaking to whom in verse 8 might be irresolvable. In light of NT claims about Christ, verse 8 is at least about Christ being briefly recognized to have a characteristic of God reserved for God in the OT (as well as being called by the name of the God Who stands among His rebel assembly back in verse 1.)

After which, it’s worth noting that in the Temple confrontation in John 10 (the last one reported in that Gospel) Jesus is standing among the congregation of EL, pronouncing judgment on rebel judges whom (Christ has said) are refusing to judge justly. And which he’ll do so again at the final Passover, in the Synoptics, in details very reminiscent of Psalm 82.

The GosJohn 10:30 scene occurs in early winter before the final Passover, while Jesus is in Jerusalem for Hanukkah. Pharisees show up while he is walking in the sanctuary of the porticos of Solomon, demanding that if he is the Messiah he should boldly tell them. He retorts that he has already told them something that they refuse to believe. (Specifically, that “before Abraham was, I AM”, referring to himself. For which they had tried to stone him.) He gets into stoning-trouble (again) when he claims that no one can be snatching those who put their faith in him out of his hand (a claim reserved for God), and declares that even though His Father (who is obviously a distinct person) is the one to whom Jesus owes his allegiance, nevertheless he and the Father are one.

Trinitarians routinely interpret this (and sometimes translate it, too, though the distinction is not present in the Greek), according to the phrasing of the Shema: a compound unity as “one”. (i.e., “I and my Father are a unity-of-togetherness.” Not a mere singularity.) The priests yank up stones again (keeping in mind the Temple is still being constructed), and threaten to stone him. When Jesus asks what good deed they're going to stone him for, they answer, “For the best of reasons!--because you, being a man, are making yourself out to be God!”

Obviously, these educated men aren't thinking in terms of the easy answer that Jesus only means he and the Father are working close together. But there are excellent in-story reasons for their not believing that this is only what Jesus means; particularly in GosJohn but also in the Synoptics. (Which would take me a very long time to discuss; but the “before Abraham was, I AM” statement was certainly why they’d tried to stone him previously at the Feast of Tabernacles a couple of months earlier.)

Jesus retorts by making a rabbinic-level rebuke. On the one hand, it's an 'a fortiori' reply: if this little thing is true, then how much moreso. Yet again, it's a tacit claim to be the Word (which Jesus treats as a Person) Who inspired the poem of David which he references: if in this little case the Word of God came to David to tell this truth, then are you saying (in this greater case) to the one (meaning himself) whom the Father hallows and dispatches (like the Word) that 'You are blaspheming' seeing that Jesus has said 'I am (emphatically in the Greek) Son of God'?

Yet again, however, it's a rabbinic threat to the rabbis: when a teacher wants to rebuke a student (and these, based on the previous incident, had in fact been his students and supporters before going completely over to wanting to stone him for blasphemy), he'll quote a verse from scripture that isn't itself the rebuke but leads into it. If they're too poor a student to figure it out, that adds to their shame in the eyes of those who know. If they're good enough to figure it out, then at least they have that going for them. The unstated doublet in this case is: “I have said to you that you are gods; but ye shall die like mortal men!”

Jesus, in short, is linking this situation to God standing amidst His congregation and rebuking the unjust rebel judges, judging them instead from His perspective and perrogative as God (since this is avowedly His congregation, the congregation of EL.)

Buzzard, in the video, correctly notes that Jesus also says later in GosJohn chapter 17 (in fact Jesus says it twice in that chapter) that he (Jesus) prays and hopes and trusts that his father will bring his disciples to be one with him in accord as he is one with the Father.

Is this a problem for orthodox Trinitarians? No; we understand the distinction involved, which is the kind of distinction referenced in RevJohn chapter 4: the servants of the Son may be sharing His throne as He shares the throne with the Father, but worship is given to the Son, and Divine Names are professed of the Son, and Divine attributes are recognized of the Son. Not of the faithful servants with whom He shares His throne. (RevJohn is bluntly clear about that.)

The rabbis threatening to stone Jesus for declaring “I and the Father are one”, understood the implications, too, from their larger context (which is also available to us in the witness of the Gospels).

Interestingly, even Buzzard (when vaguely discussing about how great a thing this is for a mere human to be) understands that there's some kind of strong distinction involved between the one-ness of Christ with the Father and our one-ness with Christ and the Father. (He hesitates before admitting it, too.) One might have thought, from what he was saying, that potentially we could be just like the merely human servant Jesus one day and that this is what Jesus is hoping for. Then, however, Buzzard corrects himself: not that we can ever be like Jesus, of course...

As a Trinitarian, I can understand very well how “we can never be like Jesus, of course,” even when we are at one with Him as He is in accord with the Father--because Jesus, though entirely human, is also something more than any mere human can ever be. He is the Creator God, in Whom the-all holds together, pouring Himself out to be born among us as a man. I'm certainly not ever going to be the ontological ground of all existence; the end. (It would be Satanic level presumption of me to try to be! Which of course is why the rabbis, who didn't believe Jesus to be in a Shema-unity with God, tried to kill him for the worst kind of blasphemy. And eventually succeeded, when Jesus finally let them do it.)

Notably, Buzzard doesn't talk about any of the surrounding contexts of the verse (in the first hour of the video anyway).


Anonymous said...

Jason. The common christian praxis has been to strongly condemn those not accepting the trinitarian teaching. This is true not only of the At creed, but also from examples like Calvin - Serveto and similar instances. This is also my own experience today. It´s fine not to follow the teachings of Jesus - not living in reconciliation, gathering treasures on earth, having power over others, attacking ones enemies etc, but voe to those denying the holy trinity. I´m glad, though, that you are not (?) one of those.

I am not sure I agree with your interpretation of Psalm 45 and 82, at least I think they are no strong "evidence" (or whatever you might call it) for the trinity. In Psalm 82, I think it´s the psalmist evoking JHV. I think it´s easier to interpret the NT references to those scriptures in as an expansion of the original meaning (the reference to kings and other "gods"), than the other way around. I agree, though, of course, that Jesus is g/god in a much more profound way.

As to John, I don´t find the ego eimi-proof convincing at all, since that would make the blind man and others saying "ego eimi" be JHV too. I also think John 17:3 and Jesus speaking of himself as below God, the Father, is neglected by trinitarians.

I think John´s gospel teaches Jesus as the Messiah who shines forth the divinity of the only God. I also think it teaches the pre-existence of Jesus. I just don´t think that orthodoxy is the only way to interpret those statements. As to the pre-existence, Jesus could be pre-existent in different ways (in the orthodox way, in the arian way, or as the man eternally at the center of God´s plan). I do lean towards the last explanation (with orthodoxy on the second place), but I´m not sure there´s either a need or a way to tell.

Jason Pratt said...


{{The common christian praxis has been to strongly condemn those not accepting the trinitarian teaching.}}

I noted as much myself, going back to the 2nd century at least. (Calvin-Serveto is rather much later than the AthCreed. {g}) If it comes to that, the vitriol surrounding the early 4th century Arian debates was pretty hot. Though it should be kept in mind that Arius was just as hot against the orthodox (whom he believed guilty of modalism).

There’s a strong difference, however, between this being about trinitarian teaching, and it being intrinsic from (and to) trinitarianism.

{{I´m glad, though, that you are not (?) one of those.}}

I’m not, and never have been. But I’m not, because I’m competent enough at trinitarian theology to understand why a doctrine of salvation-by-doctrinal-profession is antithetical to trinitarian theology. Also, I pay attention to little scriptural things like the thief on the cross not having to profess the Athanasian Creed before Jesus accepted him. {g} Heck, he doesn’t even call Jesus ‘Lord’! There’s a pretty good chance, based on a combination of the two Synoptic accounts concerning him, that he was simply trying to humor a guy he thought was harmlessly crazy. The difference between what he did when Jesus accepted him and what he might have been doing along with the other rebel murderer before then, was in his attitude. He stood up in favor of a man he believed to be innocent compared to himself and his own guilt, at a time when ‘standing up’ and saying anything would cost him the most. In doing so, he was definitely being a sheep, not a goat; and was giving all he could give of his own two cents of charity. (I know very well that the sheep and the goats aren’t being judged on how well they can profess the two-natures doctrine or the Virgin Birth, either. {g})

The one whom I love the most in the world under God, barely even believes in God, and I would still love her completely even if she believed in practically nothing. I fail to believe that God Who is love loves her less than I do, the derivative man of mud and the sinner. But I say that precisely as a trinitarian theist. That profession isn’t accidental to my trinitarianism (though I can point you to a Calvinist who would incoherently argue as much, if you’d rather be talking to him instead. {g}) It is centrally crucial from it.

That doesn’t mean I deny that God must also hate her sins and her sinning, such as they are; on the contrary, I affirm that just as strongly. But I would rather be concentrating on the log in my own eye (especially insofar as any of my sins may be transgressions against her. She is certainly the mortal enemy of my selfishness. {s!}) Her sins, such as they are, are between her and God. And she has learned to do better over the years, and I have hope that this will continue by the grace of God. But I hope in God for her regardless. If God intends to give up on saving her from sin (or much worse never intended to even try), then let me die the death, too--along with Moses and St. Paul.

(I say this with no hope of ever being her husband, by the way. Though I gladly would have done that for her, too. {s})

Allow me to reiterate here that I do not place my hope for her, any more than for myself, in anyone or anything less than God our one and only Savior. I hope for her, as for myself, in the single name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: in the God Who is, intrinsically and self-existently, true love and rightousness (‘fair-togetherness’), and so Who can be trusted to act toward fulfilling positive justice, salting us all with the one everlasting and unquenchable fire of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; so that on the day of the Lord to come, we will be at peace with one another.

I cannot possibly stress enough: anything less than that is less.

{{In Psalm 82, I think it´s the psalmist evoking JHV.}}

That’s certainly one exegetical possibility (if you’re talking about verse 8). But keep in mind that Jesus is applying that evocation of God to himself in the Feast of Dedication incident. And keep in mind that John of Patmos sees this Psalm (like Psalm 110) being applied both to the Father and to the Son as YHWH.

{{I think it´s easier to interpret the NT references to those scriptures in as an expansion of the original meaning (the reference to kings and other "gods"), than the other way around.}}

I could easily agree with that, too, depending on what you mean by ‘expansion’. {g}

{{I agree, though, of course, that Jesus is g/god in a much more profound way.}}

Anything less, is less. {shrug}{s}

And the much more profound way involves worshiping him with the same worship as God, praying to him in the same way we pray to God, professing him as our Savior, attributing divine names to him restricted to God, acknowledging divine attributes of him restricted to God... Speaking as a strict monotheist, I categorically refuse to be doing that for anyone less than YHWH.

{{As to John, I don´t find the ego eimi-proof convincing at all, since that would make the blind man and others saying "ego eimi" be JHV too.}}

The blind man and others are not making the kinds of claims Jesus is, such as to be I AM before Abraham was. Nor are NT authors expressly commending the blind man to be the first and the last and the living one, in whom all things have cohesion, and through whom all things have come into existence, and for whom all things exist, who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be seized but poured himself out for our sake, who alone is worthy of the worship due to YHWH, unlike angels and derivative not-YHWH servants of YHWH (honorable though those may be). Only one man has those characteristics; and only one man in the scriptures is claiming those characteristics for himself. (Unless one counts Satan, perhaps. {s} To whom that one man said that only God should be worshiped and given service-as-to-a-deity. Hint: that one man wasn’t the blind man healed by Jesus. {g})

{{I also think John 17:3 and Jesus speaking of himself as below God, the Father, is neglected by trinitarians.}}

No, we don’t neglect this or many other such things, which is why we are not modalists.

Also, if I was “neglecting” this, would I have written (in regard to John 10) that Jesus, the Son, owes his allegiance to his Father; and would I have written about the distinction of the Son subordinate to the Father in John 17?

If I write concerning these things, which I have certainly done, I cannot be neglecting them. On the contrary, I am factoring them in--along with everything else. The Son (Incarnate or otherwise) is subordinate to the Father and is a person distinct from the Father. They are not the same person. As I have routinely professed and treated them not being.

{{I just don´t think that orthodoxy is the only way to interpret those statements.}}

By themselves, yes, I would agree there are other ways to interpret them. We go for maximum data inclusion though. {g}

{{As to the pre-existence, Jesus could be pre-existent in different ways (in the orthodox way, in the arian way, or as the man eternally at the center of God´s plan).}}

Keeping in mind that the orthodox would not disagree with the third “way” you’ve given, in the way that you’ve given it. (You’d have to add something like “mere, not-God” to “as the man” before we’d agree to disagree. {s!})


Gregory MacDonald said...


I take a short vacation and return to ... a SERIOUS discussion.

Bodacious dudes!

Please forgive me if I leave you all to it but it would take me rather a long time to jump in at this point in the process. I have read through the discussion briefly and it sure looks intelligent.


Anonymous said...

I now seems to be in the position where I start to forget what is said in this discussion. This might be a sign that it´s coming to it´s end, maybe.

You have a tendency to combine arguments and "data". This is fine for me, I can appreciate the cumulative way of arguing. But sometimes it makes the discussion of particular scriptures hard, like "ego eimi". I have been taught that "ego eimi" in itself is an argument for the divinity of Jesus, since "eimi" would be the normal way to speak in greek, and "ego eimi" refers to God´s name. After studying greek myself, I found out that this is simply not the case, as the phrase is used by ordinary people definitely not being JHWH. (I am not even sure if the septuagint really has (only) "ego eimi" in that text?) Therefore, I would argue that "ego eimi" is not at all an argument for the divinity of Jesus. It simply means "I am" (with some emphasis).

When it comes to building the cumulative case, I think the evidence actually points toward no trinitarianism:
-Jesus is routinely described as a nothing but a (totally unique) man. The amount of material pointing to this way over-shadows the few text that might point towards Jesus´s divinity.
-God is described as one, never ever with the number three.
-When Jesus and God is described in the same texts, they are (almost?) always placed alongside each other with "Jesus" (the son, the messiah etc) below God. The texts that speak of "father" and "son" in a way that might put both "persons" in the category of God are extremely few. There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Jesus, the Messiah.

etc. So if the amount of material is our judge, I am not at all sure it adds up in a way you would like.

Actually, I am more inclined to believe those trinitarians that admit that Jesus and the early followers didn´t believe that Jesus was God, but that this belief developed slowly over the centuries as the church reflected on what had happened, and that there are no explicit trinitarian teaching in the NT, but that there are enough seeds for this development present. (I have not read very much from James Dunn, but he seems to come close to this perspective.)


Jason Pratt said...


Sorry for the delay. Lots of authoring since last weekend (and this weekend to come as well.)

{{I have been taught that "ego eimi" in itself is an argument for the divinity of Jesus}}

No, I agree, the phrase simply by itself is no argument for the divinity of Jesus. (Or for how Jesus understood himself to be, to be a little more precisely critical. {s})

The phrase when used in context is often proffered as an argument that Jesus was claiming the unique divinity of YHWH. This is far more suggestive. Even then, precisely because of its ambiguity, it could mean something more mundane just (or almost) as easily, in most cases. In the narrative, there often seems to be an intentional ambiguity or double-meaning on Jesus’ part, in the sense of making a rabbinic play-on-words. The GosJohn scene in Gethsemene is perhaps the most obvious example of this: when the arresting party arrives and demands to know which of them is Jesus, his reply “I AM!” stuns them into falling backward. When he asks again who they seek, and they answer (a little more politely), he tells them, as if everything’s more-or-less normal, “I told you I am he.” Here, the double-meaning of the phrase is made explicit: Jesus is using it in two fashions, and his opponents (in some confusion) understand it in two fashions.

Still, there are times in the narrative when the claim arrives with hammer-force. This is visually dramatized in GosJohn by the stunning of the arresting party. In the Johannine plot, however, the climax must certainly be “Before Abraham was, I AM” as an answer to his opponents’ derisive complaint that he was not even 50 years old and yet he had seen Abraham. (Which wasn’t exactly what he had been claiming, though again it’s a normal rabbinic tactic to be derisive of a claim by twisting the meaning around. But Jesus has a narrative habit in the Gospels, especially GosJohn, of taking the derision and rebounding it back with a stronger claim of truth built as an ironic affirmation of their derision. His running set of puns concerning the “Plunder-Possessor” in the Synoptic accounts is another example of that.)

In the Lukan plot, the climactic hammer-blow would be at the trial in the Temple: once the narrative pieces are put together, it becomes obvious that Jesus is responding to the “Son of God” question with the divine name “I AM”. Whereas, in the earlier scene capping the informal trial (in GosMark and GosMatt), his reply as represented by {ego eimi} might have been mere affirmation. (Though his previous reference use of Psalm 110, here combined with Dan 9, can be narratively demonstrated to involve a recognized double-meaning to ADNY.)

In any case, the mere use of the phrase {ego eimi} is of no exegetical weight whatever, I agree.

Did you bring up this topic in reply to my passing narrative reference to the “Before Abraham was, I am” remark? I have to ask, because it’s hard for me to tell: you didn't even mention the concept of narrative context, and treated a reference to {ego eimi} as though no one but God would ever use the phrase, ever, for any reason. I, however, was specifically pointing out that the priests had already tried to stone Jesus once for blasphemy in making that declaration; which is the immediate narrative background (though very far from the only narrative background) for their intention to stone him again at the Feast of Dedications. I was not presenting the use of the phrase in the fashion you (correctly) rebutted. (But then that leaves me wondering whether you were simply bringing up the topic yourself on your own accord. {shrug} I can’t yet tell.)

For what it’s worth, I will reiterate that you shouldn’t have been taught “that ‘ego eimi’ in itself is an argument for the divinity of Jesus.” (Whether or not anyone else in the Gospels uses that phrase with the {ego}.) Whoever did that wasn’t being very apt as a trinitarian apologist. {s} Or was trying to cut some corners.

{{Jesus is routinely described as **a nothing but** a (totally unique) man.}}

Jesus is routinely described as being a (totally unique and) totally human man; as far as that goes I agree. (Though I might even quibble about the "totally unique" part. {g} Specially unique as a man, yes. Totally, no.) The “nothing but” tends to be read into the “fully human” as though the concepts of “human” and “divine” were mutually exclusive. That’s a metaphysical argument attempt, however, not an exegetical one. (This frequently happens in the video, for example, where appeals to the scriptural affirmations of Jesus’ humanity are supposed to count as evidence against the orthodox position. Against modalism and/or docetism, yes; against orthodoxy, no.)

{{The amount of material pointing to this way over-shadows the few text that might point towards Jesus´s divinity.}}

It’s possible that the humanity material does outnumber the divinity material texts--though even if one total “way over-shadowed” the other, that wouldn’t in itself have serious exegetical weight. (There are only four or five references to the Lord’s Supper, per se, in all the books of the Bible put together, for example; but all Christians realize that celebrating the supper is important in some way.)

As it is, though, there are far more than “a few texts” pointing towards Jesus’ divinity; easily two hundred, I would say. It could even get boringly monotonous tallying them up. {wry g!} People tend to key on a bare handful of texts, pro or con, because that’s easier and more colorful to do; but to actually claim there are only a few texts demonstrates a key lack of familiarity with the material (pro or con).

Personally, I would prefer to discuss in detail particular examples already raised for discussion, rather than simply rest with that assertion. (In fact, I have already gone to some detail in my discussion of particular examples. And could easily go into far, far more. {g})

{{God is described as one, never ever with the number three.}}

Irrelevant if there are multiple persons being spoken of in distinction from one another yet also being recognized to have the attributes and/or identification as YHWH. Or, to be more accurate, the description of one is specially relevant in that case, because then the data in concert points to multiple persons of the singular God, not to three Gods. (To which the evidence of ACHD, to take an example discussed in this thread, is going to come into play again: a common term for a single compound group, and moreover the only Hebrew term for "one" that is ever used in that fashion in the OT.) Even the spurious 1 John interpolation didn’t simply describe God using the word “three”, the end, period. (It affirmed “these three are one.”)

{{When Jesus and God is described in the same texts, they are (almost?) always placed alongside each other with "Jesus" (the son, the messiah etc) below God.}}

Discussed at some length above already, I think. Orthodoxy recognizes this as evidence, too (as I already said); and counts it against modalism. It isn’t as though we’re ignoring it. We’re factoring it into the total exegetical case.

Similarly, I’ve already explained above why it would be textually rare for “father” and “son” to be mentioned by those specific terms in close proximity anyway. (It’s simply a reference factor. If an author says that God is the Father of Jesus, he doesn’t have to say that Jesus is the Son of God; nor vice versa. That would still be just as true for a unitarian testimony of scripture.)

{{There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Jesus, the Messiah.}}

As I mentioned in my (relatively) quick report of the video’s first hour, there’s a lot more to be said about that verse and its surrounding contexts than any simple prooftext reference. {g} (Which, not-incidentally, the video doesn’t discuss in its first hour, at least.)

Which I could post up several pages of discussion on, that I wrote out for my main video-analysis notes. But I’ve already posted up quite a bit of detailed discussion on some things that aren’t being counter-considered in similar detail. (And I have other things to be doing. {s})

{{Actually, I am more inclined to believe those trinitarians that admit that Jesus and the early followers didn´t believe that Jesus was God, but that this belief developed slowly over the centuries}}

I know that there are some trinitarians who go this route, including a few authors (Dunn came to my mind, too. Though at the same time, I honestly don’t know to what extent he agrees that trinitarianism is true. I've never heard.) But, and I have to be blunt, when they do this they are showing they don’t know the NT textual data (including its OT links) very well, or aren’t paying sufficient attention to what they do know.

Okay, back to other authoring... {g} (Big action scene to compose over the weekend, that I’ve been working up to for three books now...)


Jason Pratt said...

{{and treated a reference to {ego eimi} as though no one but God would ever use the phrase, ever, for any reason.}}

Sorry, bad sentence composition there on my part. (It's late in the day and I'm hungry. {g})

I know you didn't treat a reference to {ego eimi} as though no one but God would ever use the phrase, ever, for any reason. But you treated the apologetic use of the phrase, on the part of trinitarians, as though we never bother to look at the contexts. Whereas I was looking entirely at the context from my first mention of it (in passing, though important passing), and did so again when you first replied about {ego eimi} being used by the blind man (for example). To which I replied with more narrative context references: there's a massively huge difference in the story between the claims being made about (and by) Jesus and the claims being made about (much less by {g}) the blind man; and one set of those claims synchs up with some highly suggestive (and in at least one obvious case a mortally blasphemous--if untrue) useage of the phrase as represented in Greek: {ego eimi}.

Stopping with the observation that other very-obviously not-God characters occasionally use {ego eimi}, only rebuts (though rightly so as far as it goes) attempts to make mere use of the phrase by itself somehow exegetically important. But that wasn't how I was ever referring to Jesus' use of the phrase. (So, why treat me in answer as though that was all I was doing?)


Anonymous said...

What would you say about the "adoptionist"-sounding language in the NT, for example Romans 1:3 and Acts 13 that seems to say that Jesus became God´s son by virtue of his resurrection, or the texts that seems to connect Jesus being God´s son to his baptism (Mark) or his being born (Luke)?

Jason Pratt said...


Perfectly fine questions, though they have rather different answers.

Easiest one first: if Luke 1 did actually testify to the notion of Jesus becoming the Son of God by being born, then I would consider this (along with other orthodox systematic theologians in our history) to be scriptural data in favor of the two-natures doctrine: the human nature of Christ is brought into union with the divine nature. I wouldn’t consider it to simply abrogate all the other scriptural data about what the earliest Christians were believing and teaching about Christ (including what Jesus himself was teaching about himself).

As it happens, Luke 1 (so far as I can tell from another re-read, just to check) does not state that Jesus became God’s Son by virtue of his being born. It does say (twice) that he shall be “termed” (or named, or even nick-named) “Son of the Most High” and “Son of God”. In itself, not really evidence one way or the other, except insofar that this would be occuring due to the conception, not to the birth per se. (But you could perhaps revise your question along that line: does Luke 1 say that Jesus became God’s Son by virtue of his conception? I am temporarily deferrng comment about “holy spirit”, as this will have some bearing with one of your other questions.)

What else is said about this baby in Luke 1, though? Well:

1.) In the introductory address to Theophilus he is called “the Word”.

2.) “The Lord” is routinely and very obviously used throughout the chapter to refer to God (as in v.16, “many of the sons of Israel shall he be turning back to the Lord their God”.) Yet “the Lord” is also “visiting” them (mentioned twice, once by Gabriel, once by Zech once John is born and he can talk again) by this baby being born, and when Gabriel announces that “the Lord is with” Miriam she becomes very agitated wondering what kind of salutation this is. (By itself the latter wouldn’t necessarily mean anything particularly orthodox; but the rest of the chapter gives indications that the Lord is “with” her in a specially unique way: by visiting them with this birth, for example.)

3.) Elizabeth calls the baby “my Lord”, while also rejoicing that there would be a “maturation” (a curious word in this context) of that which has been spoken to Mary by “the Lord”. At the least, this is a ADNY/ADNY double-meaning usage reference. (Adonei, Adonai.) Very likely it is connected to Psalm 110 through the announcement of Gabriel in the preceding scene, concerning the throne of David.

4.) Immediately after Elizabeth’s own prophetic announcement, Mary delivers the Magnificat, where “the Lord” refers to “God my Savior” doing typical OT “Lord God our Savior” things.

5.) In Zech’s prophetic celebration of the birth of his own son, he blesses “the Lord, the God of Israel” for “visiting and making a redemption for His people” by raising up a horn of salvation for them in the house of David (a very masculine poetic way to talk about a boy being born. {g})

6.) John, per Zech, shall be called a prophet of the Most High for this reason: because he shall be going before and in the sight of the Lord to make ready His roads, to give the knowledge of salvation to His people. All four Gospels connect this mission to being a preparation for the ministry of Jesus; thus “Jesus” is “the Lord” whom John is both going before and going in the sight of (as from on high, ‘under His Eye’ so to speak. {g})

7.) Very closely related to that last part, Zech immediately follows this with the reiteration that the “Dayspring from On High” is visiting them (a direct poetic reference to God via dawn/sun imagery), connecting this visit to the famous Isaianic prophecy from chapter 9 (where the one to come to “those sitting in darkness” shall be given ridiculously elevated divine names elsewhere reserved in the OT for God alone.)

At the very least, it would be pretty damned cheeky (so to speak {g}) for these people and/or Luke to be referring to this boy by divine poetic titles up to and including “the Lord” while constantly talking about “the Lord their God” and “the Lord their Savior”, if someone involved with this story didn’t think that Jesus was in fact “the Lord” “the Dayspring from On High” fulfilling prophecies not only of a coming man with titles otherwise reserved for God but fulfilling prophecies about the coming of YHWH.

8.) Not incidentally, the declaration of the envoy of the heavenly armies who first appears to the shepherd, is, “today was brought forth to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” So, Who was the Lord and Savior back in chapter 1?! (I won’t appeal to how the grammar of the armies’ subsequent answering praise might perhaps be rendered, as that is more speculative. I suspect they’re saying, however, “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth! Peace among men, delight!”)

To which I would add that “King of Jacob” is also a divine title (as in Isaiah 41.)

In short, there’s a lot more going on in Luke 1 (and 2 for that matter) than Jesus simply being called the Son of God. What there isn’t is a statement to the effect that Jesus became the Son of God by being born. (The closest is that the baby will be given the throne of his father David, to reign on into the eons, whose kingdom will never finish growing--or possibly will never be consumed.) Apparently he was “the Lord” already before he was even conceived; and while there is some kind of distinction between Jesus and God, both are also identified with each other using OT reference points. (Another case where checking the narrative references makes a big difference. {s} Like the GosJohn 10 incident that apparently only one of us is going to discuss in narrative/contextual detail... {g!})

However: even if there had been something in Luke 1 to the effect that Jesus somehow became the Son of God in virtue of being conceived/born, I would simply tally that in with all the other scriptural data, where I would find that it already fits into the two-natures notion. In a very real sense, orthodoxy does allow for Jesus to have also become the Son of God at conception (because we believe the scriptures testify to Jesus being fully human as well as fully divine.)

{{[what about] the texts that seems to connect Jesus being God´s son to his baptism (Mark}}

This is almost as easy. {g} GosMark doesn’t say anything about Jesus having become God’s Son at his baptism, either in the narrative contexts or in the announcement from God (Who declares, “You are My Son, the beloved, in whom I delight.” Basically, “Good job, Son!” {g}) There are no significant textual variants in this verse, except that some texts don’t have the verb “occured” in regard to the voice from heaven. (Which mainly makes a difference in regard to whether verse 11 is a new sentence or continues the previous sentence. There is no relevant doctrinal difference involved either way.)

GosMatt’s version has the same declaration, but being made to a more general audience (not directly to Jesus). Also GosMatt clarifies that “the Spirit” descending like a dove is “the Spirit of God”. Maybe most importantly, GosMatt includes the probable reason (in its narrative) for why the Father might be so pleased with His Son for being baptised: because Jesus humbly and voluntarily submits to it, in order that all fair-togetherness may be being fulfilled. (Though the grammar is ambiguous about who the “we” doing the fulfilling is.)

GosLuke clarifies that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the bodily form of a dove. Same declaration from God out of heaven. (Note, incidentally, that there is a distinction in all three texts between the Holy Spirit of God, and God declaring from heaven. The dove doesn’t open its mouth and declare that Jesus is His beloved Son in whom He is delighted. As highly amusing and interesting as that would have been! {g})

So, in conjunction, we have Jesus humbly and voluntarily submitting to a baptism to the willing committment of sending away sins, so that he and someone else together might achieve all fair-togetherness. Some kind of spirit of God distinct from the voice of God from heaven descends upon him in the bodily form of a dove, that can be seen by other people, as does (apparently) a beam of light from the sky, pointing to him. God declares that He is well-pleased with His son, which is not only heard by Jesus, but by other people around. Three distinctions are evident, Father, Son and Spirit (distinct from Father and Son). The scene doesn’t (as far as the baptism itself goes) specifically indicate the deity of Jesus, per se; but this is hardly a problem in itself, since neither does any version of the scene deny it. (The deity of the Spirit of God might be implied, however.)

Now, why is this scene sometimes considered “adoptionistic”? There’s a reason you mentioned GosMark and not the other two Synoptics: because people who go for an adoptionistic interpretation typically also claim that in GosMatt and GosLuke the ‘doctrine’ has been ‘advanced’ away from adoptionism! Both of those texts indicate that Jesus was the Son of God at (or at least due to) the conception of Jesus; also that the Holy Spirit had something to do with the conception. (Not a problem for orthodoxy, as when one of the Persons is in operation all three are in operation.) The only reason GosMark looks ‘adoptionistic’ per se, is because this scene is the first time Jesus and God the Father (and the Spirit, for that matter) are mentioned at the same time in GosMark.

It is sometimes claimed that the declaration of God in this scene is from Psalm 2:7. Psalm 2 is certainly very interesting and messianic and applied to Jesus in various places; but it is not being quoted here, as any check of the Psalm will indicate.

Far more likely, the declaration from God is meant to be a reference to Isaiah 42:1, which is certainly a Messianic prophecy, and subsequent verse of which are certainly applied to Jesus in the Synoptics, but which does not indicate (includng in context) that the Messiah started being the Son of God at a particular point in his adult life. The first verse is extremely close to God’s declaration in the Synoptics (the basic difference being “Son” for “Servant”).

It should also be noted that God declares something very similar in all three Synoptic accounts of the Transfiguration, “This is My Beloved Son in whom I delight!--Listen to him!” But no one, as far as I know, takes this to mean that Jesus became the Son of God again, or here instead, in this incident.

{{"adoptionist"-sounding language in the NT, for example Romans 1:3 and Acts 13 that seems to say that Jesus became God´s son by virtue of his resurrection}}

I will point out in passing that it would be difficult for all three positions to be true in the “adoptionist” sense: that Jesus became Son of God at conception (amending from ‘birth’ in relation to Luke 1), at his baptism, and at his resurrection. How many times does he have to become the Son of God?! {lopsided g} (Moreover, in the case of the ancient heresy of adoptionism, the concept was that Jesus became fully God at some point in his human life but wasn’t God before then. Which I doubt is what you’re talking about.)

As it happens, the second case (at baptism) is simply a non-case that doesn’t have anything to say about when (if there ever was a distinct ‘when’) Jesus became Son of God; and the first case, when the surrounding narrative contexts are put together, would indicate proto-orthodoxy at least: Jesus pre-exists as “the Lord” equivalent somehow to the Lord God and Savior of Israel, King of Jacob, yet also distinct somehow from the Father.

What about the third case, though? (I’m taking them in chronological order of Jesus’ human life, not in your order of mention.)

Rom 1:3 doesn’t have anything to do with the resurrection, of course; it has to do with the Son being born out of a seed of David according to the flesh. (Which the orthodox certainly do not deny.) You meant to reference verse 4, where the Son is designated or marked as Son of God according to the Spirit of Holiness out of resurrection of the dead.

The phrase “out of” in each case is basically {ek} (or {ex} in the latter case); and obviously some kind of parallel is being made between the womb of Mary and (to put it a bit poetically) the womb of the earth. (The phrase is literally “resurrection of the dead” not from the dead, but I agree with most translators that Paul is talking about Jesus’ own resurrection.)

The key verb here is ‘marked’ or ‘designated’. The Spirit of Holiness isn’t what is marking or designating the Son as Son of God, though. Resurrection of the dead is! Now, no one would claim (except insofar as you would care to allow that God is the Resurrection and the Life--though if you do, you’re going to have a fun GosJohn verse where Jesus is affirming His deity again {g}) that resurrection-of-the-dead is authoritatively conferring the title/status/whatever of “Son of God” on Jesus; the verse means therefore a reference to a topic fairly common in Acts: that because Jesus is raised from the dead, therefore this is ground for believing that he is in fact Son of God. Simply because he was raised from the dead by God? No; but because his raising from the dead by God demonstrates that what Jesus was claiming about himself wasn’t blasphemy after all. What blasphemous claim was Jesus condemned for, then, handed over to die a death traditionally understood to be that of someone cursed by God? ({waving hand!} I know! I know! {g})

Nor does anything in the immediate discursive context of Rom 1 run against this understanding, either. Whereas, on the other hand, in regard to Rom 1:1-7, and speaking as a devoted monotheist (and I’ve mentioned this kind of thing before): I do not consider Moses or any mere prophet or apostle my Lord, nor myself a bond-servant of any of them, nor do I consider myself to be an apostle for their name’s sake, nor do I receive the grace of salvation through (much less from) them, nor do I consider myself to be called by them: but rather the Lord God! I would and do consider any religious equivalent of that kind of loyalty and devotion to be idolatry at best, if applied to any entity I believe to be not God, no matter how exalted.

Last, then, Acts 13:33: this is one of three direct references to Psalm 2:7 in the NT. The other two are in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and I’ll be discussing them, too, along the way.

It may be noted, first, that this sermon at a synagogue of Pisidian Antioch was a roaring success, with no mention of dissension at all. It was not until next week when massive crowds of Gentiles showed up that the Jews became jealous and started contridicting the things that Paul and Barnabas are teaching. (And Paul's rebuke is that since they aren’t interested in Gentiles also being saved, then he and Barn will just go to the Gentiles, with the statement that by making this judgment their enemies have judged themselves unfit for salvation.) The important thing for our purposes is that when trouble arrives it isn’t for blasphemy per se, and indeed at first there was no trouble at all. Considering the kind of trouble the apostles were getting into elsewhere in Acts (much moreso the trouble Jesus himself got into with the religious authorities), we might therefore suspect that Paul is ‘softballing’ the pitch, so to speak.

And indeed, even I cannot find any serious Christ-deity claims in this sermon. (Though the salvation claims of vv.38-39 start to edge in that direction.) Is this a problem? No, there are plenty of other such things reported in the scriptures, including from Paul elsewhere. The content of the sermon explains its great immediate success and (for that week) lack of opposition: Paul wasn’t saying anything (yet) that the Jewish leaders or audience would find theologically objectionable about Jesus. So, there’s no objection.

The strongest potential problem for orthodoxy (insofar as this incident goes) is Paul’s use of Psalm 2:7 to apparently refer to Jesus’ resurrection. It certainly doesn’t refer to this in the original Psalm; on the contrary it’s rather ambiguous what it does refer to (which is why the Hebraist can make a somewhat different use of it. More on that later.) Of course, Paul can borrow scripture out of context to make a limited point, such as at the end of this sermon where what God was going to do with the Chaldees is reffed as a similar warning that God has done something that they wouldn’t believe if told, and they’d better be prepared to accept it anyway. (Which, by the way, looks like a hint that something else, that hasn't been told yet, is coming next week!--remember, this sermon was wildly successful, people weren’t having problems with it, so why the warning? As it happens, next week there’s already a problem with the Gentiles wanting to join in, so Paul never gets around to the sermon.)

Consequently, then, we have an exegetical leeway here about what Paul means concerning his application of this verse. Does “raising Jesus” in verse 33 mean the same as in verse 34? In immediate exegetical context it might; the phrases are the same, and seem to have parallel construction. In extended context, it might not; in which case it would more likely mean “raise up” in the sense of God bringing Jesus to them in the first place somehow. If there are strong indications elsewhere that the Father is begetting the Son in some supra-mundane way before the Res occurs in natural history, then we would be free to go with that here as well. (It is notable that Paul, having given this verse, seems to think that the Res of Jesus still needs scriptural predictions! Which he proceeds to supply.)

How does the Hebraist, then, make use of this verse?--who, if he is not Paul, at least is very closely associated with Paul. (The main evidence for it not being Paul, is his apparent denial of being an apostle, along with no salutation identifying him.)

Heb 5:5 notes that Christ did not glorify himself to become high priest, but was glorified by God Who said to him “Thou art My son, today I have begotten thee”. This could have either a unitarian or orthodox application, as it stands, and the immediate context doesn’t give a ‘when’. It is notable, though, that verse 8 presents Christ as already being a Son, when he learned obedience from the things he suffered. (Which at least comports with the Gospel records where Christ affirms himself as Son of God before the Res.) Indeed the verse is structured so as to present an important antithesis: although He was a Son, he (still) learned obedience. Or even He, being a/the Son, also learned obedience.

But who is Jesus, this apostle and high priest of our confession, whom the Hebraist (back at the beginning of chapter 3), offers for our consideration? He was faithful to Him Who appointed him, like Moses was in all of... someone’s house. Whose house? His house. ‘His’ who? One might suppose it was God, and be correct! He Who appointed Jesus and Moses both at least, ‘He’ being the one who also built the house.

But then the Hebraist continues: “For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by as much as He Who constructs the house has more honor than the house.” We’re already at Christ being worthy of as much glory as God! How can this be if Christ is not God? Moreover, the contrast in glory is between Christ (builder of the house) and Moses (the house). But every house is built by someone, as the Hebraist proceeds to remind us, and the builder of all things is God.

Yet again (as the Hebraist soon remarks), Christ was faithful as a Son over His house Whose house we are. So there is distinction between Son and Father, and yet both have the glory of being the builder of all.

Which leads us to the Hebraist’s first use of Psalm 2:7, which is back at chapter 1. Again, no particular ‘when’ is given as to the “today” when the Son is begotten; but the Hebraist affirms that this was spoken to no mere angel, but to the Son, who (per verse 2) not only is appointed by God as the heir of all things, but through whom also He made the world. And this one (per verse 3) Who is the radience of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, upholds all things by the word of His power. We have two distinct persons here, both of whom are acting together to do two of the things which God alone does: creates all things and holds them together.

It really should not be surprising then when the Hebraist (as he proceeds to do in vv8-9) makes reference (as I have already mentioned, I think) to Psalm 45:6 in reference to the Son, representing the Father saying thereby to the Son, “Thy throne O God is forever and ever... therefore God, Thy God, has anointed thee with the oil of gladness above Thy companions.”

Does the Hebraist mean that Jesus became God then? No, he has already said that the Son and the Father cooperated together to make all things, and are still cooperating together to hold them in existence. But just to make sure, he proceeds (in vv10-12) to apply Psalm 102:25ff, which is certainly referencing YHWH, to the Son, presenting the Father again as saying this of the Son: “Thou, Lord, in the beginning did lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Thy hands: they will perish, but Thou remainest!”

“For this reason,” says the Hebraist, putting it very well {g}, “we must pay closer attention to the things that we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”

Far from Psalm 2:7 meaning that the Father begot Jesus as the Son at the Resurrection, then (though that still would be true in a minor way, too, if one thinks of it as being brought out of the womb of the earth {s}), or at His baptism (which is a non-issue altogether), or even at His conception (though that would be true as well, in the sense of the two-natures doctrine); it means rather that the Father begets the Son eternally, every “Today”. For it is by YHWH, Father and Son, that even the days themselves exist and are upheld!

So, in return, I will give you an easy question. {g} Who brought Israel out of bondage and destroyed her enemies? (Hint: I ran across this myself just in the past couple of days, in the epistle of Jude. Hint 2: our only owner and Lord did so.)


Anonymous said...

Sometimes I still have the feeling that you are trying to exhaust me with your page-upon-page-arguments. I would prefer shorter replies. In my view this should be more of a dialogue and less of writing theological articles and books at each other...

Some comments, though:
1) I don´t think the scriptures has only one view on God/Jesus/Spirit/trinity. There are real differences within the canon that cannot be harmonized in a simple way. I even believe that there are contradictions in the teachings between the biblical authors (and in some cases even internal contradictions). Maybe this is one of the reasons we disagree?

2) I still think Luke 1:36 might hint of Jesus becoming God´s son from the birth/conception.

3) Why should “the word” in Luke 1:2 refer to Jesus and not the gospel? This was a really bad argument, I think.

4) The fact that both Jesus and JHV is termed “lord” in the scriptures of Luke (even in Acts), doesn´t mean that the two should be confused. I am aware of the tetragrammaton-argument, but we also have to keep in mind that “kyrios” in greek simply means “leader”/”master”, and is normally used in this way.

5) That God is described as having stepped down to deliver God´s people wouldn´t have been understood in it´s historical context to have referred to JHV becoming a man. This way of putting things is used in the psalms and apocalyptical texts otherwise to refer to God´s acting on behalf of Israel. God has begun a real revolution and visited God´s people in and through the life and ministry of Jesus. This doesn´t mean that Jesus is the same thing as God. (In fact, it more presupposes a real distinction between God and Jesus.)

6) Even other prophets has been doing “God our Saviour”-things (although of course not in a way comparably to Jesus).

7) ”This is almost as easy.” Funny way to put it. If this is easy, why all of the debates about this. Maybe the problem is that theologians like James Dunn and Christian heretics are just stupid or evil since they don´t acknowledge how stupid this is?

8) It´s not difficult to interpret Mark 1:11 as a mix of Ps 2 and Isaiah, awakening in jewish listeners the “begotten today”-saying. If Mark didn´t intend this meaning, he at least hasn´t tried hard to avoid it!

9) The verb in Rom 1:4 as far as I know (I have not checked, I trust J Dunn on this one) does mean “appoint” or something similar in the other instances where it is use.

10) I find your interpretation of Acts unconvincing.

11) Regardless of what “today” refers to, it poses a great problem for orthodoxy, that says that Jesus was born eternally from God BEFORE time.

12) You seem to be avoiding the question what the early hearer and readers would have heard, reading these texts and hearing these words. Being monotheistic Jews, I think we need a lot of material if we can believed that they would have understood the words to mean that God had become a man.

Jason Pratt said...


{{Sometimes I still have the feeling that you are trying to exhaust me with your page-upon-page-arguments. I would prefer shorter replies. [...] There are real differences within the canon that cannot be harmonized in a simple way.}}

I just thought those two statements were kind of funny, when read together. {g}

(So am I being far too in-depth detailed, or am I being far too simple in my harmonizations?)

In my defense, you asked me what I thought about three somewhat different adoptionist theories spread across no less than four very different scriptural references (maybe six or eight insofar as some OT scripture was being quoted, too, in those NT reffs), all of which had some highly important contextual elements to be considered.

If you would like a somewhat less lengthy answer, perhaps you should ask far less complicated questions. {s}

Which leaves me in a quandry, because I've spent several hours today writing a discussion of your reply with you (as far as your reply goes--some pretty important things are omitted). But by tautology, that means it's going to be another long letter, though not nearly as long as the last one. What am I supposed to do?

I worry that any brief answer will be unfair to you by being too brief. But, if you insist: twelve relatively brief replies.

1.) I think the scriptures have one composite view on God/Jesus/Spirit/Trinity, which has to be put together, but which naturally can look like any of several other views if taken atomistically. And I am not ideologically committed to the notion that there can be no contradictions between Biblical authors.

2.) I still think neither Luke 1:35 nor anywhere else in Luke 1, states that Jesus becomes God’s son from birth/conception. "Hints" that can be read into one part of one verse carry proportionately little exegetical weight.

3.) I didn’t argue that “the word” refers to Jesus in Luke 1:2. I mentioned it, assuming (wrongly I suppose) that you had heard of why this would be so. Apparently I should have added more to my letter. {wry g}

The phrase at Luke 1:2, is that the people whom Luke accepts as authority figures, “from the beginning became eyewitnesses and deputies of the word”. The word ‘deputy’ literally means ‘under-rower’, and everywhere else in the NT refers to servants and/or representatives of people, not of concepts. (To give one very pertinent example, Jesus tells Pilate that if his kingdom had been of this world, “my deputies would have contended”, etc.) The closest that the word comes to meaning an officer of a concept might be Acts 26:16-18; but it’s still primarily in relation to the person of Jesus first. (Or maybe 1 Cor 4:1, where the administrators of God’s secrets are still first deputies of Christ.)

To which I could also add the whole “Memra of God” thing that I (somewhat briefly) discussed, more than once, back up there somewhere. {s} When a 1st-century Jew talks about the Memra/Logos as a person, there’s an exceedingly good chance, if not a certainty, that he’s talking about God Himself, as per the Targum commentaries of the Torah.

The phraseology is very precise in any case: Luke is talking about eyewitnesses and deputies of a person known as {ho logos}.

4.) I’ve already agreed (more than once if I recall correctly) that the mere fact that both Jesus and YHWH are termed “lord” in Greek, doesn’t mean that therefore they must be the same entity. (I knew that already back when I was seven.) Moreover, my argument concerning the phraseology use in Luke 1 (and 2), was not simply that the same word is used for Jesus therefore it must mean YHWH. I have never once made that argument, ever; and considering that I have affirmed the other before now, there is no point trying to keep ‘correcting’ me about it. Please make a note somewhere.

5.) The term ‘visit’ in regard to God in the OT, was frequently used to describe the arrival of the Shekinah of God in the tabernacle or Temple to dwell among the Hebrews. So, yes, historically God’s people could understand it to have referred to God actually coming among them, within something even less than a man.

That being said, since my purpose in talking about GosLuke 1 was first and foremost to address supposed “adoption-language” in it (which does not exist anyway), I am entirely willing to allow that a Jew might consider all the visitation-of-God-as-a-baby language to be as allegorical as, say, a virgin birth--which they also weren’t expecting to literally happen. (I affirm the virgin birth, by the way.) Nevertheless, the language is there, to be considered allegorical or otherwise, whereas statements that Jesus first became Son of God by being conceived are not. My point was that if we’re going to talk about the actual language there in Luke 1, that’s the kind of language actually there, and quite a lot of it.

However, since we're on the topic: speaking as a devout monotheist, if I spend a whole chapter frequently using “Lord” as a title for God, I’m going to feel pretty hinky about casually calling any not-God entity (emphatically) “the Lord” and “my Lord” in close proximity to that, especially when my topic is how the real Lord is supposed to be visiting us from on high somehow through this not-God child. Reading Luke 1-2 from a monotheistic perspective requires some strong insensitivity to the importance of title usage, not to get squeamish about those titles also being used for Christ in close proximity. (Unless one accepts that Christ is also emphatically the Lord, coming to visit from on high, in some still-monotheistic way that preserves the distinction between Father and Son found in Luke 1. i.e., orthodoxy.)

And even then, I still noted, which you may have not noticed, that orthodoxy actually can very well say that Jesus became Son of God at his conception, insofar as we affirm the two-natures doctrine.

6.) I can’t parse the grammar of your reply here, but it looks as though you’re saying that even other prophets were claiming to be God our Savior and were being called God our Savior, and were being exhorted for us to accept as God our Savior (i.e. “doing ‘God our Saviour’-things. Although of course not in a way comparably to Jesus.”) Which, to put it mildly, I’m dubious about. {s} But possibly you meant something else.

(Of course, Jesus is not referred to in Luke 1-2, as "God our Savior". He is however referred to emphatically in chapter 2 as the Lord our Savior; whereas back in chapter 1, that was a title reserved for some other Lord. Whom the language, such as it actually is, indicates is visiting us as this baby.)

7.) A lot of time, the debates keep going because people don’t bother to read closely enough, even though they are neither evil nor stupid. For example, my remark about “this” being “easy” was in relation to the questions you had actually asked, to which I was primarily replying, concerning “adoptionistic-language” seeming to be at Jesus’ conception in Luke and Jesus’ baptism in Mark. There is no adoptionist language in either place (and plenty of language that on the face of it would point otherwise, unless it’s allegoricized away, in GosLuke); but the baptism scene does at least have a statement that is sometimes connected to a Psalm that might be read adoptionistically, even though that phrasing is absolutely not there in GosMark, or any of the other Synoptics. Thus, “almost as easy”.

8.) Mistakes are sometimes not difficult to make, too. It would be even less difficult, though, to interpret it as a direct reference to Isaiah, since the only shared link “you are My X” is found there, too, and the only element missing from the Isaiah version is servant (which can mean son) for son. And if we’re going to talk about Mark not trying very hard to avoid an adoptoinistic meaning there, let us consider that he completely avoided using “today I have begotten you” in the scene, if he meant to reference Psalm 2:7.

Be it right or wrong, the adoptionist meaning has to be read into the scene there, by several degrees of application: “Son” for servant might indicate a conflation with Psalm 2:7; which could be plausibly adoptionistic; and isn’t used in any other way by NT authors (demonstrably false); and somehow doesn’t conflict with the other two Synoptic uses of “Son” at the baptism scene despite earlier scenes of theirs where His Sonship would, if any adoption was intended, be conferred as a factor of His conception, not His baptism. (Though no actual adoptionistic language is found in those scenes, either.)

In passing, I would have been interested in seeing a comment from you to my observation about shotgunning ‘adoption’ across three widely separated times in Jesus’ life. Heck, even I bothered to mention why two out of the three might count in some valid way as Jesus being ‘begotten’ Son of God under orthodoxy (especially the first).

9.) JP: {{The key verb here is ‘marked’ or ‘designated’ [or] authoritatively conferring the title/status/whatever.}}

Jonas:{{The verb in Rom 1:4 as far as I know (I have not checked, I trust J Dunn on this one) does mean “appoint” or something similar in the other instances where it is use.}}

{shrug} Again, things like this are why debates continue. {s} I can’t tell if you’re trying to agree with me or not. It seems not; but I did give three “something similars” in my discussion of it, so then I have to wonder if you’re trying to say you agree with me on that (at least). But the reply-points so far have all been disagreements. After which you don’t discuss my actual analysis regarding Rom 1:1-7; leaving me wondering if you think pointing out that the verb can mean appoint and similar things (which I obviously stated, too) was some kind of rebuttal to my analysis. Um... halps??

Also, I was curious what you might reply to my speaking as a devoted monotheist in regard to how St. Paul behaves (and would have us behave) in regard to Christ, in Rom 1:1-7. Especially since (as I mentioned then, too), I’ve mentioned this kind of thing before several times.

10.) Considering I bent over pretty far backwards to allow a possible (or even probable) adoptionistic reading there, in at least two ways, I’m a little fuzzy on what part you found unconvincing. I could list a very long paragraph of elements for you to choose from, if you like.

I see that there will be no discussion of the other NT uses of Psalm 2:7, and how they relate to adoptionist theory. Oh, well. I’m sure I’ll be mentioning that first chapter of Hebrews again (as I’ve done already before--at some length--without subsequent discussion...)

11.) For such a great problem, you didn’t bother to give any details about it. Surely you haven’t been told or heard (when you were orthodox) that the orthodox profess Jesus to be born eternally from Mary as a man BEFORE (or superior to, or whatever) time?

(In case you have, that would be ‘no’.)

12.) I thought I went into more than a little detail about the effect that these things would have on early hearers and readers. Indeed, you often haven’t commented on my lengthy discussions of that. To give a highly pertinent recent example, you didn’t comment on my paragraph of discussion about how a Jewish monotheist (or the devout Gentile goyim equivalent) would be likely to take St. Paul’s exhortations for how we ought to consider Christ in Rom 1:1-7.

Speaking of avoiding questions: I asked a very simple one of you at the end of that last letter. I will suppose you didn’t avoid it, though, so I will remind you that you forgot to answer it (or possibly didn’t notice it).


Anonymous said...

Well, you keep pointing out in your last comment that I "avoid" commenting on things that you mention. That´s because your replies have been hundreds of pages long, and we apparently have very different views on what kind of fora a blog is. To me, as I have said before, it´s more of a conversation/dialogue, than a place for writings books and articles at each other. You seem to say that complex things cannot be dealt with at all in a short way. I doubt this. There might be a place for writing books and thousands of pages of exegesis. I doubt that a blog is the right place for this. A theological blog (to me, apparently we disagree) is a place where we have to deal with complex issues in a relatively brief way. I would prefer taking a few things at a time. Which I will hereby do, I cannot keep all of this in mind otherwise, and this make this discussion unfruitful.

Of course I know of the Son being born eternally by the Father before time. That was what I was referring to. To me, the phrases "before time" and "today" (I have begotten you) contradicts each other. I haven´t heard though, that the orthodox confesses Jesus to have been born "eternally from Mary as a man BEFORE time". Can you explain this statement and where in the creed it is to be found?

Jason Pratt said...


{{That´s because your replies have been hundreds of pages long}}

I’m quite capable of writing things hundreds of pages long, too. {s} But these aren’t them. (8 to 14 pages maybe, depending on fonting.)

And I pointed out at the beginning of the previous letter the reason for the length: because you asked me to comment on some wide selection of topics at a time. (As was routinely done before in this thread, too.)

I repeat again, therefore: if you want a shorter reply, tighten up your topical scope. But don't blame me if I take the time to answer highly complex wide-scope inquiries.

I gave you an explicit opportunity to do so, too, when I asked one very simple question of you, recently. (Which I refused to charge you with avoiding, preferring to explain its omission on other grounds.) But apparently we aren’t going to have a discussion when I ask a question, even when it’s one simple one. (“Yet He said to them [right before being convicted for capital blasphemy]: ‘If I tell you, you will not believe. And if I ask a question, you will not be answering.”)

{{Of course I know of the Son being born eternally by the Father before time.}}

Thank you for being more specific about your great problem, at least. {s}

I never use the phrase “before time”, however, including in my recent discussion of what being begotten eternally means (and including in my discussion of what that means in relation to “today”). I agree that “before time” is an unhelpful and contradictory phrase and that it either shouldn’t be used or at least should be qualified.

And incidentally, we prefer to use ‘begotten’ in relation of the Son from the Father instead of “born” which we reserve for the birth from Mary. (Even naturally speaking they aren’t the same thing, although in the case of the Son’s relation to the Father we’re having to borrow an analogical term for special technical reasons.)

In any case, if you have a specific problem with what I actually wrote instead of with what I didn’t write (for example, “before time”), I would prefer you mentioned that instead. It will save confusion and wordcount both. {s}

{{I haven´t heard though, that the orthodox confesses Jesus to have been born "eternally from Mary as a man BEFORE time". Can you explain this statement and where in the creed it is to be found?}}

This is why I said, “the answer is ‘no’”, in case someone had taught that to you. (Muslims sometimes critique the Incarnation on similar grounds as though we were claiming this when we’re not. You didn’t explain what your problem actually was, and I explicitly doubted that you had been taught that; but just in case I pre-empted it with a ‘no’, as in, ‘no we don’t believe that’.)


Anonymous said...

It definitely seems I have been reading some of your comments too sloppy, which a reading of our last three comments makes clear. I apologize and repent of this. I should have ended the conversation long ago, or decided to read carefully. I have not been a good listener towards the end of the conversation. I even accused you of avoiding things you didn´t avoid, and exaggerated the length of your answers. I´m truly sorry. Ok?

Let me take on a few of your questions, then:

1) I think it was JHWH that brought Israel out of bondage and destroyed her enemies? (although I would have to qualify the destroyed-part in the light of Jesus, but probably that´s another question)

2) I can´t see no problem with what Romans 1 says of Paul´s relation to Jesus in light of monotheism. The king is spoken highly of in the OT and people are serving him etc. The king is God´s anointed and therefore poses no threat against God as the only God, even despite the fact that the king is sometimes even called elohim. How much less of a problem would it be if someone obeys and follows the Messiah who is the king of kings, and firstfruit of the coming kingdom, the one in whom God has begun to make the world new?

3)As to Hebrews, I think that the verses in the beginning of chapter one could easiest be read in light of jewish wisdom-theology. The emphasis is not on whether Jesus had a personal existence. "Cooperated" in creation is not a word I would have used. Chapter two can be read as a good example of Adam christology. Only with the risen Messiah does God´s intention with humanity come to it´s culmination. It´s because of Jesus obedience that he has been exalted.

Probably you had more questions I´ve ignored, but lets take it from here.

Have you read James Dunn´s Christology in the Making?

Jason Pratt said...

Quick explanatory update: I’ve been terribly busy (and ill) the past several weeks on another project, which has led to a long delay in writing even a relatively short answer. I did accept Jonas’ apology in a private email (without any problem against him), and should have mentioned that here for fairness’ sake in his favor, but I didn’t want to do so without also continuing the discussion; and I’ve been so wiped out on other things that I didn’t have the energy even for a relatively short reply. (I'm still just as busy, but my illness has receded again 'until a more opportune time'. {wry g} So I currently have more energy to spare on other projects.)

Thus my procrastination on the acceptance that I owed to him, for which (in turn) I’m also sorry and ask forgiveness.

To briefly recap two important points before getting to the discussion with Jonas:

1.) Like Jonas I am more concerned with ethical behavior than with the importance of doctrinal accuracy, though I’m concerned with the latter, too, obviously. As long as someone is walking according to the best light they can see, and looking for more light thereby, I have no complaints, regardless of technical disagreements about doctrinal beliefs. Or, to borrow another Pauline way of putting it, inasmuch as someone is exhibiting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfullness/trustworthiness, humility, self-control--against which things there is no law--then I have no problem recognizing the fruits of the Holy Spirit, to which I myself am a debtor regardless of the theological beliefs of the person.

St. Paul regards himself as eagerly indebted even to the Greeks and barbarians, both the wise and the foolish, whom he is about to theologically criticize, and pretty sharply so, in Rom 1. It must be in regard to his recognition that they are even so cooperating with the Spirit to some real extent, for he avers in Rom 8 that we owe no obligation to the flesh but to the Spirit. Jonas is very far from being a Greek or barbarian, and shows obvious fruits of the Spirit besides, and any critique I have isn’t nearly as harsh as Paul’s in Rom 1; which I mean as an a fortiori reassurance of non-hostility.

2.) Even though Gregory set this thread aside to discuss trinitarian orthodoxy (and alternatives), I want to stress again in conjunction with the main topic of his forum: my universalism is a direct logical corollary (I would say exclusively so) from trinitarian orthodoxy. (Meaning the term ‘orthodoxy’ as a general historical label for an identifiable set of theological doctrines; not as a description of necessary correctness, though I do believe the doctrines to be correct.) My metaphysical and exegetical certainty about universalism derives from my metaphysical and exegetical trinitarianism (in various dependent combinations). This thread isn’t about the universalism so much; but like Gregory in his opening post for the thread I have tried to make a point of demonstrating how the two concepts tie back in together, when I could.

As it happens, I won’t be doing so in this particular reply (which I’ll post up next), but I did want to remind readers of something relevant to the forum’s main topic that I consider to be at stake in the discussion. I agree with Gregory that one can be a universalist (in various ways) without being ortho-trin; but as I’ve noted before up there somewhere, I wouldn’t be nearly so sure about it.

I’ll post the actual continuation of the discussion next. Thanks for your patience, Jonas!


Jason Pratt said...


{{Probably you had more questions I´ve ignored, but lets take it from here.}}

Those were fine; I have no complaints.

1.) I entirely agree. (Including the hope for those destroyed by YHWH. {s!}) Did you check the epistle of Jude, though, to see why I was asking the question? I gave that hint for a reason. (It’s only one chapter long; my reason ought to be fairly easy to find.)

2.) True, the king is spoken highly of in the OT, and people are serving him, etc. How many prophets, like St. Paul, were apostles (or the OT equivalent thereof) for their name’s sake, though? A very low number, I think. {s} This gets into naming issues again. So, in the name of whom shall every knee be bowing and every tongue confessing that this ‘whom’ is lord of all? (Hint: Isaiah 45 says who, toward the end.) True, it’s to the glory of God the Father. But then, even ‘glory’ has a special meaning in regard to YHWH in the OT: the glory of YHWH is itself YHWH (the Shekinah).

Be that as it may, what single name is being referenced by this?

2.5) {{even despite the fact that the king is sometimes even called elohim}}

A singular king being called plural elohim who isn’t even the Messiah (much less God Himself)? That would be something worth referencing! I do know of one Psalm where the singular king is called Elohim, which I tried to discuss way back up there somewhere. But notably, that king is at least the Messiah, if not (also?) God Himself. So, what single not-God not-Messiah king are you thinking of who is called by the plural name/description Elohim?

(As I discussed before in regard to this Psalm: the video unitarian apologists had to claim that this Psalm was supposed to be about ‘kings’; whereas the Jewish Tanakh doesn’t dare even translate Elohim into English as “God” there. As I discussed before in regard to this Psalm, there are very good reasons why these two unitarian groups would be leery about doing this. This has a lot to do with that first chapter of Hebrews again, btw, as well.)

{{The king is God´s anointed and therefore poses no threat against God as the only God}}

True; but strict monotheists can get edgy about referring to not-God entities in God-dy type ways. (Goes with the whole ‘strict’ thing. {g}) Let’s be clear about the problem: the problem is not that trinitarians are too fuzzy about who gets to count as God or not. The problem is that we don’t like it when particular supposedly-not-God entities are described as having the honor, attributes, names and deeds (and seat, to complete the handy “HANDS” acronym {g}) of God.

Nor do Jews, which is why most devout but non-Christian Jews aren’t Christian: they look at the NT and see Jesus having these descriptions. The actual historical answer to the question of what early peoples would make of all this, is that by and large they either accept it as meaning Jesus is somehow God (in any of various ways, orthodoxy being one of them), or they reject it for meaning Jesus is somehow God. (After which, like David Flusser to pull a modern Ebionite-ish name from off the top of my head, they may decide that Christians spiked the texts very early and the ‘real’ Jesus can be uncovered with source-criticism peeling, etc.)

I’m not saying there aren’t minorities who somehow get around this in their heads, for whatever reasons, be those reasons right or wrong. Obviously those minorities exist, too. But you-all are the minorities. If you’re going to talk about what people usually would think in ancient Palestinian/Near Middle Eastern terms when exposed to this material in bulk total, the historical answer is: they usually accept Jesus as being God somehow or else reject the religion represented by the texts.

That being said, the disciples and apostles in the Gospels are, admittedly, usually finding ways around the deity implications in their heads in the Gospel narratives, though no reasons for why are given. Who aren’t finding their way around the deity implications are Jesus’ better-educated religious authority enemies; whom Jesus is largely expecting to be on his side. Or to get back in line behind him. And Jesus is constantly pushing them on this, in the Synoptics as well as in GosJohn. Which culminates in the blasphemy condemnation. The Resurrection, however, doesn’t result in business as usual for the disciples. Now they’re expected to go make the same challenging claims about Jesus' identity and authority; not the claims they themselves could safely believe before.

Don’t misunderstand my point here: I’m not arguing that “this was the majority response, therefore it’s the best way to understand the data.” I’m a universalist myself, which has never been a majority response to the data. But!--neither do I make appeals to the effect of ‘anyone back in that time and place would have usually understood this to be universalistic.’ I know better than that as a historical fact. (And, relatedly, the disciples didn’t seem to be all that hot for the salvation of everyone from sin, either, at first. {g})

3.) {{The emphasis is not on whether Jesus had a personal existence.}}

Someone being called “the Son” and “God” who is doing the deeds of YHWH with special properties unique to YHWH--and the emphasis is not on whether he had a personal existence? That’s rather like saying the emphasis is not on whether God (the Father or otherwise) had a personal existence when He was making all things, or has a personal existence when He is holding all things together. At best it’s irrelevant.

Jewish Wisdom-theology at least has the non-personal advantage of talking about a concept (‘wisdom’) in personal terms. Not about a person in personal terms. But Jewish Wisdom-theology quickly moved in the intertestamental period into considering Wisdom to be something personal related to God, whether God Himself or some kind of super-created entity above the angels. This is one of the reasons (though not the only one) for why by far the most common title for God Himself in the 1st century Targum commentaries on the Torah, became “the Memra (Word) of God”. That includes at Genesis 1. (“In the beginning the Word of God created the heavens and earth.” Sound familiar? There are reasons why the Evangelist begins with “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was (emphatically) God.” After which he starts using personal pronouns for the Logos, just like he would with God.)

The depersonalization of Heb 1,in any case, has to be read into the verses. Not out of them. I have not yet heard anyone even among the unitarians try to claim that Psalm 110:1 is supposed to be about an impersonal concept; but the Hebraist says that this is an important piece of scriptural identification for how much greater the Son is than even created angels (who are the ones being given somewhat depersonalized descriptions if anyone is in Heb 1). There are reasons for that, too, involving the ADNY double-meaning riddle.

{{Chapter two can be read as a good example of Adam christology.}}

True (aside from the possibly minor fact that Adam Christology per se isn’t mentioned at all in chapter 2 {g}), but hardly a problem for orthodoxy, inasmuch as we also affirm the full humanity of Christ. This same Jesus who is made for a little while lower than the angels, is also the same Son of God whom the Hebraist has just affirmed holds the characteristics of YHWH: creating the world along with the Father, upholding the world through the word of His power, worshiped by angels, making the derivative angels as His ministers, seated on the throne of God (not on a throne beside God), grounding the earth in the beginning and being eternally self-existent rather than derivative and perishable like creation.

Moreover, the thrust of 2:14 is that he-who-sanctifies (from back in v 11) partakes of the flesh and blood shared by the children of God, which tactily requires what chapter 1 made pretty explicit: that he-who-sanctifies (and who is it who sanctifies other than YHWH??) exists first to then partake of being-flesh-and-blood.

{{Only with the risen Messiah does God´s intention with humanity come to its culmination.}}

Certainly the orthodox have no general dispute against this.

{{It´s because of Jesus obedience that he has been exalted.}}

Nor with this either (whether at the level of the self-existent unity of the distinct Persons, or at the level of the pouring-out-and-raising-up of the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection.)


Anonymous said...

Apology accepted!

Probably we will soon have touched on almost every possible aspect of this discussion... I´m not sure when to end (it seems you probably never will... ;)

-I suppose that your intention is that it is obvious that "the Lord" is Jesus in verse 5 of the letter of Jude. I doubt it. I doubt it. As I have said before, my view is that "kyrios" simple means master/leader. This title applies to both God and Jesus. Or to be more exakt, there is one God who rules through his servant Jesus, which comes close to what verse 25 says.

-Doesn´t quite a few texts in the NT imply that Jesus was given the position as the Lord, as the one sitting on the right hand of God, by virtue of his obedience, and was MADE the Messiah/kyrios (Acts 2). How can this way to put it have any meaning if he already had this position before? (You have probably answered already, please be patient.)

-I hope I have stated clearly that I don´t explicitly reject the trinitarian dogma. These conversion has had some influence on me, and I have also read Dunn´s book, which in a (very modest) way is a defense for the inkarnation. It´s extremely important for me that Jesus from Nasareth is the true picture of God, God´s word become flesh. I could even say "Jesus is God", if we by that mean that we see God most fully in Jesus. It´s the (extra-biblical) philosophical issues involving questions on substances, natures and persons that I have some troubles with.


Jason Pratt said...


By the way: OPPS!!! While I was catching back up on prior messages, I suddenly realized you had asked a question about whether I had read a particular book by Dunn on the development of Christology. My answer is that I’ll be glad to discuss particular arguments of his in that book, if you want, especially in context of material already covered; but if I gave a full opinion on it, you’d be looking at a massively huge entry. {s} (Incidentally, he doesn’t talk about the Jude reference; not in that book anyway.)

Also, yes, I do recall that you don’t explicitly reject trinitarianism. But for purposes of discussion you’ve been presenting the other side, so for convenience’s sake I’ve been referring to “you” inclusively in that group. Strictly speaking I suppose I shouldn’t have done so, and I’m sorry about that. I’ll try to avoid doing so hereafter, except where you’re stating a position actually held by you yourself.

On to the actual discussion...

{{I suppose that your intention is that it is obvious that "the Lord" is Jesus in verse 5 of the letter of Jude. I doubt it. I doubt it. As I have said before, my view is that "kyrios" simple means master/leader.}}

So, in effect, you’re proposing that after Jude talks of our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ, Jude goes on in the very next sentence to remind us that we have another Lord after all, i.e. YHWH Who delivered His people out of Egypt and destroyed unbelivers.

(This is aside from the fact that the earliest manuscripts of Jude v.5 are about evenly split for reading “Jesus” instead of “Lord” there; and the “Jesus” reading is also the most widely attested of the earliest manuscript data for v.5. The earliest extant reading for verse 5 also happens to be “God Christ” instead of “Lord”; although even orthodox textual critics don’t try to claim that that’s the original reading, because it fails standard text-crit criteria. Insofar as standard text-crit criteria goes, “Jesus” would have the edge over “Lord”, as an equally early option; with much wider attestation in subsequent translations into non-Greek; as the reading that makes the most sense for explaining the alternate; and as the most difficult reading. Be that as it may: I’m not making my case from the text-critical argument for “Jesus”.)

So, who is our only Lord? Certainly the orthodox (andthe modalists, to be fair) can answer YHWH with systematic consistency there.

{{there is one God who rules through his servant Jesus, which comes close to what verse 25 says.}}

More specifically, verse 25 calls Jesus Lord by title again. So, who is our only Lord and Master?

Keep in mind, this isn’t only a case where the title “Lord” is applied to Jesus near reference to God where God is not referred to as “Lord”. (Though it’s weird enough that this is common in the NT as a transition from the Jewish habit of referring to God as Lord.) This is a case where the title “Lord” is applied to Jesus as, emphatically, our only Lord and Master, in very close proximity to a use of “Lord” that obviously refers back to YHWH freeing the Israelites, i.e. to God. (All of this assuming that the text-crit principles are wrong in this case, which isn’t impossible, and the original reading shouldn’t be counted as “Jesus” in verse 5.)

Yet again: it isn’t simply that the orthodox are pointing to a use of the Greek word {kurios} in relation to Jesus. We’re pointing to a contextual use of the word as a title in a fashion that, insofar as exegetic theology goes, adds up to ‘Jesus’ and ‘God’ being identified as the same entity in one sense (YHWH, who delivered Israel from Egypt, and who is emphatically our only Lord and Master) but also as distinctive persons (thus verse 25; and verse 4, for that matter, where “God” is distinctively referenced as such in distinction from “Jesus”--the latter being “our only Lord and Master”, though!)

{{Doesn´t quite a few texts in the NT imply that Jesus was given the position as the Lord, as the one sitting on the right hand of God}}

The orthodox tally in that data, too, for our exegetical case. This (among other things) is why we aren’t modalists.

Or, put another way: just as we and the modalists can both affirm that Jude would be treading hard on blasphemy to be referring to Jesus as emphatically our only Lord and Master in distinction from God (much moreso right before referring to God by the title of “Lord”, assuming for purposes of argument that that’s the original reading and not “Jesus” despite text-crit application); so we and Arians-and-neo-Arians (i.e. the non-divinitists of various kinds) would agree with the kind of data you’re mentioning over against the modalists. Theologically, the non-divinitists would read that particular data differently than us; but we read the data differently than they do because we’re tallying in the divinity identification data, too. Nevertheless, they-and-we would still agree that a distinction of the persons (one way or another) is being testified to.

Obviously the orthodox would account such verses (where Jesus receives the title of YHWH--verses, including Acts 2, that are linking back to OT references to God Himself--and did so in virtue of his obedience) as talking about either the human nature of Jesus being united to the divine nature of the eternal Son (though some other Christian groups could do that, too, of course) or else the Person of the Son being eternally begotten by and surrendering in loyalty to the Person of the Father in the unity of the Godhead. (Context would determine which, or maybe both, we’d go with on a case by case basis.)

But we go that interpretive route because we’ve also been busy factoring in data where Jesus is being identified with YHWH in various ways.

To give a further example: even though some NT and OT texts speak of the Messiah as sitting at (not on, btw) the right hand of God, it is also common for the NT texts to speak of this entity sitting on the throne of God. (Which may be why you misremembered the preposition in your remark. {s}) In fact, despite the necessary requirements of post-scriptural artistic motifs, there aren’t multiple thrones in view anywhere in the OT or NT. There is only one throne, that of God, and (per the New Testament) Christ is to sit on that throne and receive the honors, praise and worship due to the one Who sits on the throne of God: something not vouchsafed to other entities, even angels. (I’ve discussed this in some depth already back up in the comments, in regard to RevJohn.)

The fact that Jesus combines a right-hand seating claim at his trial (resulting in a conviction of blasphemy against God, no less), with the claim to be one coming on the clouds of heaven, is significant; for in the OT, outside of the Daniel vision of one like a son of man, the image of riding the clouds is reserved either for God or for pagan gods--not for humans (even human agents of God). Thus Jesus is claiming to be a heavenly, divine figure who would be seated on par with God the Father, in order to exercise divine rule forever over all people everywhere.

Early Christian Era Jews understood that this was not even a perrogative to be expected of the Messiah (though interestingly they seem to have developed that idea eventually in later Talmudic recollections). Psalm 110:1 and Dan 7 (much less together) were neither one generally understood to mean that the Messiah would rule from God’s throne. And when Rabbi Akiba in the early 2nd century ventured to suggest that the Davidic Messiah would sit on a throne even alongside God (not even on God’s throne), in reference to Dan 7:9, he was met with a sharp warning not to “profane” God. So he attempted an alternate interpretation where the two thrones (of his interpretation; no two thrones are mentioned in the actual text) represented God’s attributes of justice and mercy--and some rabbis still found this unacceptable.

So they were leery even of acknowledging that the Messiah would sit next to God; much moreso would they be appalled at the notion that the Messiah would (as the NT has it) sit on God’s throne receiving the worship and honor of Him Who sits on that throne.

It is interesting then to consider the 3rd century Rabbi Abbahu’s admonition, which reads like a direct rebuke to the claims of Christ at his trial (as reported in GosMark): “If someone says to you, “I AM God”, he is lying; “I am the son of man”, he will regret it; “I will ascend into heaven”, he has said it, but he will not carry it out.”

When exegetes read that Christ will exercise universal rule over all things (a perrogative reserved for God in the OT), having been emphatically exalted above all God’s heavenly court (in language and spatial terms reserved for God in the OT), doing the deeds reserved for God in the OT in the position reserved for God in the OT, receiving universal worship from all things (a perrogative reserved for God in the OT), and actually sitting on the throne of God in conjunction with all the rest of this--then it actually takes some creativity to try to claim that Jesus isn’t being strongly identified with God in the NT. (Yet not personally identified with God the Father, either; the orthodox are quite cognizant about that, too, exegetically.)

Since you mentioned Acts 2: I will suppose you’re thinking mainly of Acts 2:36, the climax of St. Peter’s first evangelical proclamation or sermon (before the altar call {g}): “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ--this Jesus whom you crucified.”

The orthodox do take the “made him” very seriously--it’s one reason why, exegetically, we aren’t modalists; and it’s one (of many) reasons why we not only distinguish between the persons of the Father and the Son but also claim the two-natures doctrine of Christ (fully human as well as fully divine.) But we also pay attention to the contexts of Peter’s sermon. We don’t simply guess that Peter was only meaning to say that God made Jesus “sovereign”, any more than we simply guess that the Father somehow makes the Son God. We look at what Peter is actually reported saying in this sermon about Jesus:

1.) Peter begins by referencing the promise of YHWH in Joel 2 (i.e. Joel 3 in modern Hebrew Bibles), specifically identifying this as God, that before the end He will pour out His spirit (which is what Peter afterward claims is happening with the speaking-in-tongues) and do other end-time signs so that everyone who calls upon His (God’s, YHWH’s) name will be saved. This is bluntly clear in the OT context, and Peter is explicitly reported as agreeing this is talking about God here. (Not incidentally, St. Paul professes that Christ ascends to give gifts and quotes a Psalm in reference to this where the One giving gifts is YHWH.)

2.) But then at the altar call, what does Peter do? When asked by the crowd what they should do, Peter answers that they should be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. But they were supposed to be calling on the name of YHWH!! Peter already said so, back in his reference to the prophet Joel!

3.) Peter adds that this offer is good for everyone, nearby and far away, as many as “the Lord our God” shall call to Himself. This language echoes Jesus in GosJohn and GosMatt calling people to himself for salvation. It also echoes the introductory quotation from Joel again, which was explicitly (as Peter agreed) about God.

Peter is making a not-too-obvious claim that the name of Jesus Christ is YHWH, the name of self-existence reserved for God the only Savior of the Jews (and of the world).

The orthodox put together both sets of data in this sermon from Peter. And then we note that in the original non-voweled Hebrew of Psalm 110 (which Peter quotes before proclaiming that God has made this Jesus both Lord and Christ), ADNY could be read either as Adonei or as Adonai. Peter is saying it should be read both ways; not either/or, and not only as Adonei.

(Nor was he inspired to do this out of thin air: he’s following the challenge of Jesus regarding the ADNY usage of Psalm 110; a challenge his opponents dared not meet but which they eventually condemned him for blasphemy about, both at the informal hearing reported in GosMark and GosMatt, and at the formal hearing at earliest dawn in the Temple in GosLuke.)

{{It´s the (extra-biblical) philosophical issues involving questions on substances, natures and persons that I have some troubles with.}}

But the church borrowed, developed and deployed that language later because of the combined testimony of the received data. And for the most part, the counter-orthodox apologists were doing the same thing for much the same reason: because they were finding data in the scriptures and wanted to be faithful to that data. The main reason the orthodox party represented the majority (with some relatively minor variants within that group), was because they were able to pull together more of the received data than anyone else could do.

But of course there were people who (rightly, I believe) were concerned about rejecting apparent contradictions in order to avoid accidentally accepting errors--and those people were among the orthodox as well as the counter-orthodox. So metaphysical arguments were deployed by many sides (including by the orthodoxy) in service of the exegetical cases, to try to show that the exegetical cases of various sides were logically coherent.

Now, personally, I prefer to go the route of metaphysics to start with. {g} I can argue the exegetical case tolerably well, but I know if I was a sceptic I’d want (what amounts to) the metaphysical case settled first insofar as possible and then to be looking around to see what religious tradition matches my logical expectations most solidly. If you’d prefer to talk the metaphysics instead of the exegetics for a while, I would be happy to do so. And I don’t much like the terminology of the classical fathers either. {g} But the fact of the matter is that the Bible isn’t set up to give testimony in the form of metaphysical argument; so in order to discuss the logical coherency of any set of claims, extra-biblical terminology and methodologies are going to have to be deployed.

Or if you’d rather stick with the exegetical case, I’m good with that, too. Just be aware that the two cases are rather different, even though (I think) they add up to the same result in the end.


Anonymous said...

Aren´t you applying different kind of logics if one compares the exegesis of Judes "one Lord" with John 17:3, 1 Kor 8:6, 1 Tim 2:5. In light of what you have said about "one Lord" in Jude, wouldn´t the easiest way to read these other text be to say that there is one God and therefore Jesus (mentioned alongside God) is not God?

That said, I believe the text in Jude is directed against powers competing with God and God´s grace, so I cannot really see why we should draw those conclusions you do regarding the relationship between "God" and "Jesus".

Jason Pratt said...


{{I believe the text in Jude is directed against powers competing with God and God´s grace}}

Me, too. But that’s irrelevant for the exegesis of the contextual relationship concerning Jude’s references to God and Jesus.

I apologize in advance for the relative length of the following comment; but you specifically asked for exegetical comparison among four sets of verses. More than half the comment deals with the 1 Tim verse, which is notoriously difficult to parse out the grammar on.

{{Aren´t you applying different kind of logics if one compares the exegesis of Judes "one Lord" with John 17:3, 1 Kor 8:6, 1 Tim 2:5?}}

Don’t think so! {g} Keep in mind, Jude is saying that our only Lord and Master is Jesus; a claim that is sandwiched between a reference to God (treated, as I noted, as a distinct person from Jesus) and a reference to God again where God is called “Lord”. (And that’s assuming text-crit principles are actually wrong this time and the original wording for the reference to the Exodus wasn’t “Jesus” too!)

In light of what I said about Jesus being our “only Lord” in Jude, the easiest way to read the Jude text is, frankly, the way the (pseudo)Athanasian Creed puts it: both Persons are one Lord, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing (in later philosophical parlance) the ‘substance’. The Father and the Son are both our only Lord.

This is a key reason why it’s common for non-conservative (and even some conservative) scholars to suspect Jude of being written late: because, supposedly, the theology couldn’t have been that ‘developed’ in the lifetime of the original Jude, brother of Jesus. (Except St. Paul shows us otherwise, in texts that even most liberal sceptics agree are original to him. Notably when the ultra-hyper-sceptics want to make a case against even the Pauline texts their other sceptical peers accept as being genuine, a key part of their argument is again that the theology is too ‘developed’, thus ‘demonstrating’ either massive post-1st-c tampering or outright forgery.)

So, comparing the exegesis of Jude’s “only Master and Lord” Jesus Christ (who is somehow distinct in person from God but who is nevertheless also somehow our only Lord like the YHWH Who delivered Israel from Egypt) with the three verses you referenced, what happens?

1.) John 17:3. [Jesus praying to the Father] “And this is life eonian: that they may You--the true and only God!” The next phrase “and Jesus Christ whom You do send commissioned” could be one of three things:

a.) Jesus might be referring to himself as “Jesus Christ” in the third person, which would be highly unusual and maybe unique. (I don’t recall Jesus ever referring to himself as “Jesus Christ” elsewhere, though strictly speaking I suppose it isn’t impossible.)

b.) Jesus was making use of his name and the messianic title to build a meaningful expression, thus, “And Him Whom You do send commissioned: the Anointed King, God’s Salvation” or something like that. The Hebrew/Aramaic double-meaning then got reduced down to a self-reflexive name-reference in the translation to Greek.

c.) the Evangelist is adding a commentary to the prayer, joining Jesus in glorifying the Father in exultation.

Any of these cases would involve a distinction in persons between the Father and the Son; which of course the orthodox do not deny but strongly affirm (over against the modalists.) In order for this to count against the orthodox in combination with the testimony of Jude, though, we would have to say that our only Lord and Master is (singularly) the distinct persons Jesus Christ and YHWH but our only true God is YHWH! At least orthodoxy would be consistent: the Father and the Son (and the HS) as distinct persons are, singularly, our only Lord, our only God, our only Master. We don’t say our only Lord is the Father and the Son (distinctly) but our only God is the Father.

(Also, John 17 doesn’t include a denial that Jesus/the Son is also our only true God.)

John 17 is exegetical testimony that orthodox scholars would marshal against non-orthodox Christians who try to claim that Jesus was not a person and/or that the Son is the same person as the Father. It is also exegetical evidence that orthodox scholars would marshal against non-orthodox Christians who try to deny (in various ways) that the Father is the only true God: a claim reserved for YHWH alone in the OT. (Other gods are recognized to exist, either as loyalists or rebels, but are treated as being categorically distinct from YHWH who, as the self-existent one, is the only true God. More on this in a minute, ironically. {g})

It should also be noted that in Jn 17:5, Jesus claims to have been sharing the glory with the Father before the kosmos came into existence. This is a much stronger claim than Jesus having been simply some kind of plan or concept prior to his birth; though insofar as the orthodox accept the two-natures doctrine, we can affirm that, too, in regard to the humanity of Christ. (I don’t personally prefer to use time references prior-to-time, as a technical matter, preferring to shift the language over to spatial metaphors in order to emphasize the distinction between the temporal and the eternal; but that’s beside the point. {s})

It should also be pointed out that Jesus and/or the Evangelist claims that God’s own life (zoe eonian) consists not only of knowing the Father, but also knowing the Son. In other words, I have life from God when I am in personal fellowship with God; which is straightforward enough. But then, if Jesus isn’t God, it makes no sense for God’s own life to be dependent on my fellowship with Jesus. (And even less sense for Jesus to be claiming to be the Life!--as he does elsewhere at least twice in GosJohn.) Jesus is being treated as co-source of life with the Father: as the Prince or even Author of Life, as St. Peter puts it in his famous first sermon (Acts 3:15). This makes sense if they are somehow both YHWH, the self-existent Who gives life to derivative creation. It doesn’t make sense if Jesus is either only a super-angel (Arianism) or a super-Moses (neo-Arianism.)

2.) 1 Cor 8:5-6, “For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is one God, the Father, from Whom are all thins, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by Whom are all things, and we exist through Him.”

Orthodox exegetes certainly have no worries with this!! {g} I’m amazed you referenced it, actually. Unless the argument is supposed to be that since St. Paul here writes that we have one Lord, Jesus Christ, then God the Father is not our one Lord. In which case it must still have been Jesus, our only Lord and Master, who saved Israel from Egypt! {g}

But obviously Paul is giving a kerygmatic profession where the characteristics previously ascribed to YHWH in the OT are being shared by the Father and the Son. The Father, as is well-known, is Lord as well as God; by parallel application the Son, Jesus Christ, is God as well as Lord: the Son is our one Lord, as the Father is our one Lord. Moreover, St. Paul emphasizes that the Son shares past-and-present creation of all things with the Father--something a merely human Jesus could never remotely do! Plus, St. Paul’s proclamation absolutely and explicitly distinguishes between the Lordship of Jesus and any other lordship less than the Creator and Sustainer of All; just as Paul absolutely and explicitly distinguishes between the Godship of the Father and any other godship. Paul doesn’t deny there are other lords-and-gods less than YHWH; but he’s saying Jesus isn’t one of them.

3.) 1 Tim 2:5. I mentioned waaaay back up in my (relatively brief) summary of the first hour of the Human Jesus video, that the apologists there spent no time going into the details of this verse or its contexts, treating it merely as a prooftext (and, not incidentally, blatantly adding “the Father” into the text at a critical point). In order to shorten my summary report I didn’t go into the textual issues myself, either; but, since you asked for it... {g}

1 Tim 2:5-7 (which St. Paul calls, in verse 4, the recognition of the truth): “For one God and one mediator of God and mankind, (the) (hu)man Christ Jesus, he (or this one) is giving himself as a ransom for all: the testimony (or martyrdom), in its own times, into which I was appointed a herald and an apostle--I am telling the truth, I am not lying!--a teacher of the nations in knowledge and truth.”

There are many interesting issues about the passage.

First: the passage does not say, “For there is one God the Father and there is one mediator the man Christ Jesus.” (Which is how Professor Buzzard paraphrases it in the video, btw.) The grammar is not nearly as particular as that, and there is no reference to “the Father” in the transmission of this text (even in variants).

Second: the grammar is not entirely easy to parse out here. I've given an idea of the grammatic difficulty above in my translation: there is no verb at all before “he is giving himself”. Even orthodox translators commonly read one or two silent “is”-es (and one or two silent “there”s) into the phrase, of course; which by the way shows that there are many ways of translating the phrase that are perfectly acceptable to orthodox theology. (Which, not incidentally, is why Buzzard had to interpolate a specific reference to “the Father” into that verse.)

Third: the first part of the opening phrase (heis gar theos) mirrors the second part of the opening phrase (heis kai mesite_s) in its construction, with the {gar} and the {kai} serving as connecting conjunctions (“for” and “and” respectively). While it need not be ironclad, this construction lends strong weight to the notion that the two subjects of the opening phrase should be translated in similarly identical construction-patterns in English. If you put a silent “there” and “is” in one place, you should probably do it in the other place, too. But then the question becomes, why use that kind of particularity in the verse?

Fourth: as noted a minute ago, even if the verse is translated “For there is one God, and there is one mediator of God and man, the man Christ Jesus”, this is not necessarily a translation that threatens orthodoxy, as we agree that the one God serves as mediator between God and man in the man Christ Jesus. Even a modalist might not have a problem with that; but we orthodox would have even less of a problem because (considering scripture as a whole) we find two (or three, rather) Persons of the One God in operation, with the Son and the Spirit serving in somewhat related ways as access to the Person of the Father. (Which again is why Buzzard had to interpolate “the Father” into his quotation, as well as add some “there is”es.)

Fifth: it isn't necessary to include any “there”s in the English translation. In fact, the first part of the opening phrase would thus become a version of the Shema: “For God is one” or “For one is God”. Unfortunately, this would mean the next phrase would most likely be translated, “and one is a mediator” or “and a mediator is one”.

If the opening phrase is to be translated as a Shema declaration in the sense that there is only one ultimate God, then the next phrase would be most likely translated in the sense that there is only one ultimate mediator between man and God, the man Christ Jesus: which again is not necessarily a counter-'orthodox' statement. (Orthodoxy or Unitarianism could be read into or out of the meaning either way, and the statement doesn't conflict with either full position as, hopefully, developed from the full contexts of scriptural witness exegetically.)

If the opening phrase is to be translated as “God is only one person”, then this is at least anachronistic as a doctrinal statement, including by the Restoration Fellowship's own apologetic attempts: they treat the notion of a singular unity of persons in deity as being a late innovation (from polytheism, apparently) that the original Shema declaration would not have been opposing per se. But then the matter could be clarified by checking to see how the word AeCHaD is used in Hebrew (where it is in fact commonly used in reference to a compound singularity or composite unity) and then checking to see if there are ever indications of YHWH being testified to in that fashion in other regards. (Which the orthodox have long been making notational references to.) In any case “For God is only one person” would then be most likely be followed by the parallel proclamation “and the Mediator is only one person” in the sense that he also isn't multiple persons in a compound singularity--which would be even more anachronistic (and useless) for the text to be testifying to.

If the opening phrase is to be translated, not as a Shema proclamation (though perhaps as a nod to it), but simply in the sense that “For one (of these) is God, and (another) one is a/the mediator of God and man”, which would be another legitimate option (though the parenthetical portions would be tacit), then the next thing would be to check to see if Paul is thus explaining what roles and/or identities two entities possess. Unfortunately, the previous paragraph leading into this statement, is about entreating Paul's congregation to pray and give thanksgiving for all mankind, including kings and superiors, so that the congregation may be living a quiet and peaceful and devoted and well-anchored life; for this is ideal and welcome in the sight of our Savior, God, who wills all mankind to be saved and to come to a recognition of the truth. Which is... that... one of these entities is God and one of these entities is only a mediator between God and man… um... wait. Paul wasn't talking about the identity and/or roles of two entities (or even two persons) leading into this!

Consequently, treating the phrases as having this meaning would be totally un-contextual. At most, it would be evidence of something being interpolated into the text! (Something explicitly Unitarian or anyway explicitly against these two persons being the same singular entity. I am not charging interpolation here, by the way--only pointing out the consequences if this translation is insisted upon.)

Sixth: if, as may also be legitimately done, the phrase is translated as I have given in my main translation above, “For one God and one Mediator...” then Paul will be saying that one God, acting as mediator between God and man, identified as the Man Christ Jesus (with 'man' being the words for humankind and human), is giving Himself as correspondent ransom for all. Obviously this has some advantages as an orthodox translation: it identifies the man Jesus as God but also as a mediator between God and man. How well does it fit contextually, though?

One obvious fit is that just previously Paul was talking about their savior, God, Who wills all mankind to be saved. That's a singular subject; and this continuation would be an important (if difficult, but also poetically constructed) truth about that singular subject, which truth Paul would be teaching the nations (thus including all mankind) as an appointed apostle. It also comports well with Jesus being the Savior (which is certainly testified to elsewhere) by giving Himself for all. (I am deferring a debate about what “ransom” is supposed to mean, for now.)

The title of “savior”, aside from having its own importance within Jewish religious history, is, of course, a direct counter to a title given to various Imperial officials: our Savior is God. Our Savior is Jesus Christ. Not this or that general or emperor; this is whom we owe our ultimate allegiance to. The question has to be raised, though, how reverent Jews are owing their allegiance to someone as Savior who isn't God, especially in a larger social context where various pagan officials (some of them claiming some kind of deity themselves!) are presenting that as a loyalty-title claim, too. Certainly the conflict this would generate among Jews would go a long way toward explaining the violent revulsion given by some Jews (especially among the religious class) to Christ and to Christians in the New Testament texts. If Jesus was only making human-level claims about himself, and if his first followers were for a long time (through the composition of the canon) only making similar human-level claims about him, of a sort that the Restoration Fellowship insists a pious Jew would have no problem with: then why were pious Jews having seriously severe problems with it? (Enough so that even Jesus' supporters in the Sanhedrin ended up voting for his death on charges of blasphemy, minus two abstaining yea or nay.)

Seventh: to this might be appended the observation that pious Jews in a larger surrounding environment where officials among their enemies (some of them claiming deity themselves) are giving themselves the title of “Lord”, are less likely thereby to give the same title to a mere sovereign, when that title is used of God in their scriptures, while treating this person as having not only divine levels of authority but of being worthy to pray to as their Lord. One might at least be excusably forgiven for thinking, that when such Jews profess and proclaim Jesus as “our Lord” in the same breath that they profess God as “our Father”, the same God Whom they have previously been in the habit of calling “Lord” as an acceptable substitution for the Divine Name, then somehow those Jews are not simply talking about a human sovereign who is merely appointed lots of authority by the real Lord. What translation best coheres with this, then?

Eighth: it might also be noted that while the words “in Christ Jesus” are missing from Paul's oath (sworn in verse 7) in many old texts across many textual families of this epistle, they do show up in a wide family of later texts. Either they were original but somehow dropped out (admittedly extremely doubtful), or scribes were piously replacing what they thought was a dropped term. Why would they do that? 'Because by then they were largely Trinitarian, duh!' True, by then they were, and I do not doubt that that is a key part of the explanation. But a Unitarian had better be careful making that charge, because it requires admitting that Paul wouldn't swear (in effect) the Oath of the Testimony in the name of Christ unless he thought Christ was somehow YHWH Himself. Which is exactly what Paul is doing in Rom 9:1. Which, from the identical use of the oath ({ale_theian lego_ ou pseudomai} {ale_theian lego_ ou pseudomai}) and the mirror topic (salvation of those whom Paul's heart is concerned about, Jews in the first text, Gentiles here), would also go a long way toward explaining why pious scribes might think the phrase had somehow accidentally dropped out: because the Romans epistle shows that when Paul is taking the Oath of the Testimony, he swears by Jesus Christ. (Who himself warned not to try avoiding the seriousness of an oath by swearing by anything less than God, even when those lesser things are religiously important in relation to God. “Let your word be yes, yes!--no, no! And anything more than this is of the Evil One.”)

So, in John 17, we have Jesus affirming, as a distinct Person, that the Father is the only true God; and affirming that he himself was pre-existent with the Father sharing the Father’s glory; and affirming that zoe eonian comes through fellowship with himself as well as through fellowship with the Father; while emphasizing that the name of the Father (YHWH) be kept in highest honor: a name that he says the Father has also given to him, the Son.

In 1 Cor 8, St. Paul affirms the Shema (there is no God but One--keeping in mind that in Hebrew the word for One would be a compound unity); affirms that there are in fact lesser lords-and-gods than YHWH; absolutely distinguishes between God the Father and those lords-and-gods; absolutely distinguishes between Jesus Christ and those lords-and-gods; affirms that God the Father (the one God compared to those lesser lords-and-gods) is the creator and sustainer of all things; affirms that Jesus Christ (the one Lord compared to those lesser lords-and-gods) is the creator and sustainer of all things; and tacitly affirms (by shifting the application of the one-Lord-title, previously professed of YHWH, to Jesus) that Jesus is a person distinct from God the Father.

In 1 Tim 2, St. Paul composes a passage (v 5) that is notoriously difficult to translate, but which does affirm the distinction between the persons of “God” and the “man Christ Jesus”; affirms that there is one God; affirms that God is our Savior; and affirms that there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. The notoriously difficult-to-translate passage might be read in any of several ways, none of which are fatal to orthodoxy (without instantly introducing anachronism or un-contextuality), but some (though not all) of which would be fatal to non-orthodoxy while remaining in compositional context.

In the epistle of Jude, Jesus Christ is treated as a person distinct from the Father; and is affirmed to be our only Lord and Master; while also (in close proximity to both claims) referring to the “Lord” Who saved Israel from Egypt. (Unless standard text-crit principles are also correct here, in which case the original text of Jude most probably read that “Jesus” saved Israel from Egypt!)

Since you yourself brought up the 1 Cor reference, I'm curious to know why you thought it must be referring to Jesus as a lord who is less than the creator and sustainer of all, when St. Paul is affirming that Jesus, like the Father, is the creator and sustainer of all in sharp distinction from lesser gods-and-lords.


Anonymous said...

I have read all of your comment, but will only connect to a few things here.:

-I notice that you have to change the very words of Jude to make them fit your theology. Jude (if we use his words at the moment, and not what we think lies within the mind of the author), is not making a distinction between "the Father" and "Jesus Christ", but, at least verbally, between God (=the Father) and Jesus (v25, v21, v1, v4). Exactly this is my problem. The NT almost consistently makes a verbal distinction between God (sometimes called "the Father" or other names/titles) and Jesus. In classical trinitarian thinking, this is not right on the spot, but has to be changed into the distinction between God - "the Father" and (God) - "the Son". Your treatment of Jude, to me, shows clearly that you are not satisfied with the words that Jude uses making a distinction between "God" and "Jesus", so you have to assume that he really means something (God = Father + Son + Spirit) that is actually behind or beyond the very words he uses. This is the reason why I think it´s easier to accept the argument of those trinitarians that say that the NT writers simply didn´t know this truth in the way that the church (led by the Spirit and guided by the stories of the scriptures) later acknowledged.

I don´t think that Paul splits the Schma (as NT Wright says) in 1 Kor 8. This would not be historically plausible. If the earliest christians would have thought that Jesus was in some sense JHV, we would have found a thorough discussion of this in Paul´s letters. This would have been a far bigger development than the inclusion of gentiles within God´s people. In 1 Kor 8, Paul is arguing FROM what he says in verse 5 -6 into the issue of eating sacrificed meat etc. He is ASSUMING that the Corinthians acknowledge what he says here, he is not arguing it. So how come that messianic jews and gentiles so drastically changed their view of JHV so early, without any discussion (possibly leaving out the case of Johns gospel) that have left any traces?

I don´t think verse 6 says that Jesus is the Creator, but the God (the Father), made all things THROUGH him and OR that everything EXISTS, is hold together, through Jesus. The text envisions everything going out from God, through Jesus. The distinction between God and Jesus is clear, but Jesus is definitely given the highest possible position here (close to God, below God), compare 1 Kor 11:3, 15:24).

Jason Pratt said...


Yay! Only 4-1/2 pages from me in reply! {gg!}

{{I notice that you have to change the very words of Jude to make them fit your theology.}}

Several things to be said about this:

1.1.) I conservatively count no less than 8 times, in the past two posts, where I affirm and reference that the word in verse 4 is “God” without mentioning (as Jude does in verse 1, not to say the whole rest of the NT going back to Jesus) that “the Father” is an appropriate way of speaking of whatever person this is in distinction from “the Son”. In fact, in my discussion of the Jude verses in my next-to-most-recent post, I never once mention “the Father” in reference to Jude’s use of “God” at all. The first time I make reference to the Father/Son relationship is in a more general remark about how the orthodox treat the distinction between the Persons as testified to across the NT broadly. Whereas, in my most recent comment, I discuss Jude’s use of the word “God” in connection to but distinction from “Jesus” 3 times (conservatively) before mentioning the Father/Son relationship in primary reference to Jude. (My first mention of the Father/Son relationship in my most recent comment is in reference to the pseudo-AthCreed; only secondarily in reference to reading the Jude text. My second mention of the Father/Son relationship is in reference to orthodox theology generally, not to the Jude text specifically; my specific reference to Jude nearby sticks with the term “God”.)

The first and last time I ever reference “the Father” in primary relation to the Jude text, is near the end of my most recent comment where I write, “In the epistle of Jude, Jesus Christ is treated as a person distinct from the Father”. Which is certainly not a statement that foists my orthodoxy into the text exclusive to non-divinists, who would definitely agree with that statement! (Not being modalistic any more than I am.) It also happens to be how Jude himself references “God” in verse 1.

Taken altogether, this hardly looks like “changing the very words of Jude”; to make them fit my theology or otherwise.

1.2.) So far from changing the very words of Jude to make them fit my theology, I routinely refused to appeal to what would appear to be a legitimate text-critical result (“Jesus” instead of “Lord” in verse 5), because that would be too instantly easy for my argument! (Though I did also routinely remind you I was refusing to do so. {g})

1.3.) After charging that I had to change the very words of Jude (which I didn’t do) to make them fit my theology (which I didn’t have to do); and that I wasn’t using his words at the moment (which I did routinely do, even when it would have been easy for me to do otherwise); and after implying that I did not recognize that the NT makes an almost consistent verbal distinction between God (sometimes called “the Father” or other names/titles) and Jesus (which distinction I in fact explicitly mentioned myself more than once--I seem to recall mentioning it at least three times)... after all this, you never once addressed the problem I have been mentioning since I first brought up the Jude reference.

To reiterate yet again: if Jude in verse 4 is supposed to be testifying to an absolute distinction between God/YHWH and Jesus Christ, and if our only Owner and Lord is Jesus Christ (I deferred to the more common translation of “Master” instead of “Owner”, thus “changing the very words of Jude” there I guess, but the word literally reads “owner”), then (supposing the original word, against text-crit principles, in verse 5 was “Lord” instead of “Jesus”) which Lord saved the people out of the land of Egypt? Our only Owner and Lord, Christ Jesus? Some other Lord Who is also our only Owner and Lord? Some other Lord Who isn’t our only Owner and Lord? The OT reference is clearly to YHWH: is YHWH not our only Owner and Lord?! In verse 25 of Jude, God is averred to be our only God and our Savior. When did YHWH, our only God, stop being our only Lord and Owner in favor of some not-YHWH entity being our only Owner and Lord? The relevant texts are all quite settled in form. (Except for verse 5, which on the textual evidence probably read “Jesus” instead of “Lord”--but to which I am not appealing for my argument, since that would be an instant win situation for me.)

Charging me with various things that I didn’t do, doesn’t address this issue. Treating my reference as though I am only saying something like, ‘look “Lord” is used of Jesus there, thus it must mean YHWH’ (which I am also not doing), doesn’t address this issue. Asking whether I am applying different kinds of logic in exegeting this verse compared to three other verses, while not a useless question, doesn’t address this issue.

You can claim that our only Owner and Lord is the same Lord Who saved Israel out of Egypt; or you can claim that our only Owner and Lord is not the same Lord Who saved Israel out of Egypt. That, either way, would be starting to address the issue.

2.1.) {{I don´t think that Paul splits the Schma}} What I actually wrote was that “Paul is giving a kerygmatic profession where the characteristics previously ascribed to YHWH in the OT are being shared by the Father and the Son.”

I wasn’t talking so much about Paul “splitting the Shema”, though that could be one (unorthodox) way of putting it, too. {g} (We affirm there is one God, one Lord, in the compound unity of AeCHad; not multiple Gods and/or multiple Lords.)

Nevertheless, while I strenuously deny that Paul is saying there are multiple ultimate Gods/Lords, he is certainly applying one part of the Shema statement to the Father (God) and one part of the Shema statement to the Son (Lord); in explicit distinction from the recognition of the existence of many lesser gods-and-lords. For us there is one God and one Lord: the Lord our God the Lord is AeCHaD (a compound unity). Paul’s declarations in verses 5 and 6 fit that statement fine. But Jesus is being identified as sharing in the one-Lordship, engaging in the creative fiat that only YHWH does--not any of those lesser gods-and-lords.

2.2.) {{If the earliest christians would have thought that Jesus was in some sense JHV, we would have found a thorough discussion of this in Paul´s letters.}}

We do find some thorough discussion of it; one of those places being your 1 Cor 8 reference, which I discussed both thoroughy and (I thought) with admirable brevity. {g}

2.3.) {{He is ASSUMING that the Corinthians acknowledge what he says here, he is not arguing it.}}

I agree with that, too. The far-bigger-development has already long-since taken place, and Paul is working within that.

2.4.) {{So how come that messianic jews and gentiles so drastically changed their view of JHV so early, without any discussion... that have left any trace?}}

To your mention of the possibility of such traces in John’s Gospel, I would add that the other three Gospels also have those traces of interJewish debate, and in substantial amounts. They also show Jesus kind-of-softballing the crowds on this topic, though. The Epistles and RevJohn aren’t engaging directly in interJewish disputation, and don’t report such things. (The Hebraist being a probable partial exception.) Acts features snapshots of interJewish dispute on Jesus’ identity and authority-level, but doesn’t go into the same detail as the Gospel anecdotes.

2.5.) {{I don´t think verse 6 says that Jesus is the Creator}}

It says that we and “the all” are through Him. Insofar as Paul is “splitting” anything, he is taking a combination statement applied to YHWH in the OT (all things including all persons are created by God and for God and in-or-through God they hold together) and applying part of that claim to the Father and part of it to the Son. The Son (identified as Jesus, and also as the One Lord not incidentally) shares in the creative and eternal sustanence deeds of YHWH. We’re way past a merely human agent of God at this point!--and, per Paul (in conjunction with verse 5), we aren’t talking about a lesser god-or-lord either.

2.6.) {{The distinction between God and Jesus is clear}}

There is certainly a clear distinction between the persons; which I made sure to affirm in my comments. That includes being subordinate to the person of the Father.

2.7.) You did not actually address much of my point in regard to 1 Cor 8. How is Jesus, our one Lord, sharing in the creative abilities and perrogatives restricted in the OT to YHWH (our only Lord), in distinction from lesser lords-and-gods who are not YHWH, while being a lesser lord than our only Lord YHWH Whom Jesus is not to be essentially identified with?

The orthodox are including and stressing the distinction between the persons, so replying that the persons are being distinguished is no answer against us. We’re also including the recognition of the sharing of the identity and fundamental ability/deeds of YHWH, in distinction from lesser gods and lords, using language restricted to YHWH alone in the OT. 1 Cor 8:5-6 is a good example of both those factors.


Anonymous said...

Jason. I think I will leave this discussion at this point. As I have said before, I´m not capable of remembering or relating to all of the content in your posts, due to their immense length. So for me, the only alternative is to connect to a few things that you say, leaving the rest out. And when I do this (I have no doubt that you can find a lot of exceptions to this...), you hold this against me. So I simply cannot see any constructive way forward.

This said, I have found the discussion enlightening and important, and at least you haven´t made me more anti-trinitarian... I appreciate that you have put all of this time and effort into this conversation, may God reward you for this and keep on leading you forward. I wish you all the best.

Peace through Jesus


Jason Pratt said...


{{So for me, the only alternative is to connect to a few things that you say, leaving the rest out. And when I do this (I have no doubt that you can find a lot of exceptions to this...), you hold this against me.}}

And admittedly there are times when I shouldn’t do that, and be more lenient for your sake.

I would like to point out that in this most recent case, however, I was answering a charge that you appeared to be holding against me: “you have to change the very words of Jude to make them fit your theology.”

But, as I reminded you at some length: I wasn’t in fact doing this.

I can understand why you would have thought I was doing this if all you could do was remember the final paragraph (the one time I mentioned “the Father” in direct relation to the Jude reference); but you obviously didn’t check very thoroughly about whether your charge against me was accurate.

The most constructive way forward would be to agree, on the evidence, that I wasn’t changing the words of the text in order to make them fit my theology; and then to actually discuss the implications of Jude’s references to “God” (whom he calls “the Father”), to “Jesus Christ” (whom he calls “our only Owner and Lord”), and to whichever “Lord” it was who-or-Who saved Israel out of Egypt. (All these references being in close proximity to each other.)

If you would rather not do that, though, and/or would rather be doing something else, I won’t hold it against you.

God’s grace to you,


Anonymous said...

I read your final short words on Jude as a sum up of your reading of Jude in this regard (Oct 1, 10:57): "In the epistle of Jude, Jesus Christ is treated as a person distinct from the Father". Apparently this for you was not the case, but in your text as it stands, I still think this was a reasonable(maybe even THE reasonable) interpretation.

Jason Pratt said...

To reiterate my final short words on Jude as a sum up of my reading of Jude (from Oct 1 at 10:57):

"In the epistle of Jude, Jesus Christ is treated as a person distinct from the Father; and is affirmed to be our only Lord and Master; while also (in close proximity to both claims) referring to the 'Lord' Who saved Israel from Egypt. (Unless standard text-crit principles are also correct here, in which case the original text of Jude most probably read that 'Jesus' saved Israel from Egypt!)"

That's very apt as a summation of my long discussion before. But in my long discussion before, I am not adding "the Father" to Jude's text. I am recognizing that a person Jude calls both "God" and "Father" (following typical NT reference-usage) is distinct from a person Jude calls "Jesus" and "Lord" (also following typical NT usage). And except for one place in that discussion, toward the end, I refer to Jude's usage in the verses in question as "God".

But what I am also recognizing--and which you continue to not even remark on after a month of me continuing to mention it (as I have continually done from the beginning)--is that Jude not only calls Jesus our only owner and lord, but immediately afterward talks of how YHWH, described by him as "the lord", saved Israel out of Egypt.

(Unless text-crit principles are correct in this case, and the original word in that verse was "Jesus" instead of "the lord".)

So I ask yet again: who is our only owner and lord, religiously speaking? The Lord, YHWH, Who saved Israel out of Egypt? Or some other not-YHWH entity?

Trinitarian theists claim that the Lord YHWH Who saved Israel out of Egypt is our only owner and Lord. Which requires us to also claim, on exegetical evidence (which this one small case is typical of), that our one Lord YHWH (typically described as a compound unity in the OT, with names that more often than not feature some kind of plural character) is a unity of Persons, two of them being the Father and the Son.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I did answer this before. Since I don´t see that the issue here is a potential conflict between God and Jesus, I don´t see any problem in calling both of them "our only lord", without confusing the two. It´s not more problematic than the fact that both JHV and the king in the OT could be called "my only leader" or something similar. There´s only one Leader, One Lord. It´s JHV, ruling now through his servant Jesus. One rabbi (Jesus), one father (God), one Leader (Messiah) (Matt 23:8-12). But maybe I am misinterpreting you, please help me out if that is the case? I just don´t see the force of your argument here (which I have had no problem doing mostly otherwise in your texts).

Jason Pratt said...


Your discussion of the Jude verse so far involved the following elements:

1.) You agreed (tentatively?) that YHWH was Who rescued Israel from Egypt (and in some way destroyed their enemies). (August 15)

2.) You doubted that “the Lord” in verse 5 was Jesus, on the ground that “Kyrios” simply means master/leader, a title applying to both God and Jesus (one God ruling through His servant Jesus). You made no mention at that time of the double use of the term “Lord” in Jude, in close proximity to each other, where Jesus was avowed in a crucially religious fashion (having to do with our religious loyalty) to be our only owner and lord. (Sept 23. Delay due to my own illness and work elsewhere.)

3.) You believed the text in Jude is directed against powers competing with God and God’s grace, and so you could not really see why we should draw the (exegetical) conclusions I do regarding the relationship between “God” and “Jesus”. Also you asked if I was applying different logics there compared to three other texts. No mention of the full textual characteristic set at Jude (again). (Sept 29)

4.) You (incorrectly) charged that I was changing the very words of Jude to make them fit my theology, and discussed this for a relatively (for you {g}) long paragraph; but still didn’t address my questions regarding the full characteristic set in Jude 4, 5. (Oct 10)

5.) You reported that you read my final short words on Jude as a sum-up of my reading of Jude, in regard to the topic of Jesus Christ being treated as a person distinct from the Father. Still no contextual remarks on the full exegetical characteristic set at Jude 4, 5. (Oct 19)

6.) You finally address the topic of both Jesus and God being called our only lord (no mention of ownership) in close connection to YHWH being referred to as “the Lord”, in Jude. Stating that you had answered this before. {wry g}

So, having finally addressed the topic, we may now discuss it.

{{It´s not more problematic than the fact that both JHV and the king in the OT could be called "my only leader" or something similar.}}

And you can think of examples of this that don’t apply to the Messiah when talking about the king? I mean where a merely human and not-Messiah king is being described as our only owner and lord in regard to our religious faith?

Or, if only the Grand Messiah is supposed to count among mere humans as being our only owner and lord, like YHWH--even then it ought to be obvious why people who are dedicated monothesists might not like this very much. If I profess YHWH to be my only owner and lord (giving Him the name-title of Lord), and yet am turning around and calling some non-YHWH entity my only owner and lord as well... that seems a lot like idolatry to me. As you agree, there is only one Lord Who is our leader, YHWH. Consequently, as someone who affirms this, I am not going to turn around and call even an appointed agent of YHWH my one Lord and leader (much less my only lord and owner).

Yet again, just how normal do you think it is for an OT author when talking about YHWH as the Lord, to call some non-YHWH entity his only lord and owner (or similarly emphatic terms) where both claims are in close proximity to each other? (Again, assuming text-crit principles are wrong this time and the original text in Jude didn’t read “Jesus” instead of “Lord”.)

Even in Psalm 110 (which might be question-begging if, as the NT authors agree, it’s supposed to apply to the Messiah, thus being far from indicative of normally acceptable usage), it isn’t really “ADNY said to ADNY”; it’s “YHWH said to ADNY”. Nor does Psalm 45:6 (which might also be question-begging if, as the NT authors agree, it’s supposed to apply to the Messiah, thus being far from indicative of normally acceptable usage) feature the single king (being given the plural title of Elohim and the throne of Elohim, by Elohim his Elohim) being called “your lord” to whom the Tyrian maiden should bow, anywhere near God being called ADNY. (God is only called the plural title of Elohim in this Psalm. Not ADNY or even YHWH.)

Your defense, in other words, seems to require that it would be typically normal and unremarkable for a religious monotheist to do something like call an avowedly non-YHWH entity our only owner and lord in very close proximity to where the same religious monotheist calls what is very obviously YHWH by the title-name “the Lord”. But it is not typically normal behavior for religious monotheists to do things of that sort.

By comparison, when YHWH declares to Moses (Ex 4:16 and 7:1) that He-even-He shall make Moses “Elohim” to Pharoah; at what time is Pharoah exhorted to consider Moses to be his only owner and lord? Or at what time is Israel ever exhorted to consider Moses to be their only owner and lord (much moseso in close proximity to calling YHWH Lord?)

We know from the context that Moses is only a human man, of course; but we also know from the context that when YHWH chooses a merely human man to act as His surrogate to the world, the man (even as great a man as Moses) is not expected to claim the honor of God (much less the attributes unique to God, the names of YHWH, ADNY, EL, etc. as being intrinsically his own, or the deeds unique to God. Maybe not the seat unique to God either...?) Nor does Moses speak directly as Elohim/YHWH to Pharaoh, but instead is instructed (and obeys) to use the normal prophetic mode of address: “YHWH the God of the Hebrews sent me to you, saying, ‘Insert what YHWH and not Moses is saying to Pharaoh here.’”

Moses is a test-case for what you’re talking about; and as a test case we clearly see that his “identification” with “Elohim”, though striking, is very limited--vastly more limited than what the NT texts say (going back to Jesus himself) is the proper and true way to treat Jesus. It is easy to see that YHWH is only having Moses be treated like Himself.

In regard to Matt 23:8-12: this is certainly not a text that a trinitarian has to worry about. But we don’t worry about it, because after giving two instances (in Shema-ish language) of One being our teacher and One being our Father, both of which are leadership roles, Christ avers that only One is our Preceptor (or Leader), namely Christ.

(We also notice with some interest that the reference to Teacher comes with no identification as to the person, unlike Christ and the Father; which is a little odd if Jesus meant to identify himself with this teacher. But for purposes of discussing this reference I will suppose the One who is our Teacher is also Christ.)

Now, we orthodox would certainly agree that there is only one Leader, Who is One Lord; and that Christ is to be identified with our one Leader Who is our one Lord. And we especially affirm this in the sense of the compound unity of the Shema's AeCHaD. But we don’t turn around and then claim that we actually have two distinctly separate Leaders and Lords or that Christ isn’t really our one Leader and/or Lord after all.


Anonymous said...

I feel we´re talking in circles here... I can see why you have a problem with what I say, viewed from a trinitarian perspective. But since I believe that God (JHWH) was in Jesus (the one from Nazareth) (which we seem to agree on), I cannot put them against each other. The description only Leader/Lord or whatever applies to "God in Jesus". So, even from my perspective you can say either; "Only God is Leader", "Only Jesus is Leader", "Only God´s spirit is Leader". God and Jesus is not competing, they´re on the same team... I still don´t see why this makes my position incoherent. Maybe I am just too stupid. :)

Jason Pratt said...


{{The description “only Leader/Lord” or whatever applies to "God in Jesus".}}

Obviously the orthodox have no disagreement with that. We would affirm it as being consistent with the two-natures doctrine.

We do however put this kind of thing together with other scriptural testimony elements, where the Son exists in union with the Father doing the deeds of God from eternity. Not a concept of the Son (much less an idea of the “gospel”) existing in union with the Father doing the deeds of God from eternity.

{{I still don’t see why this makes my position incoherent.}}

It’s been a while, but I don’t recall saying your position was incoherent. Your position does require reading some extra meaning into the verses at Jude (for example), but that’s okay (in principle) so long as you’re reading meaning out from other verses elsewhere.

I think it does need to be noted that in Jude we have the author distinguishing between the persons of God the Father and Jesus Christ with Jesus being unequivocally identified as our only Lord and Master (i.e. as YHWH Who saved Israel from Egypt). That’s a fairly straightforward reading for orthodox theology. We don’t have to read in an unstated proviso that Jude only meant our only-Lord-and-Master was operating in Jesus somehow, who is not really our only-Lord-and-Master YHWH (but is to be treated religiously as though he himself is in fact our only-Lord-and-Master anyway). The ‘simpler’ theological option turns out to be not so simple after all. {s}


Anonymous said...


I wonder a little about your use of the word "religiously" and similar. On what ground are you using this concept, which as I see it is a clearly extra-biblical, modern one which actually contradicts the holistic framework of the hebrew/apostolic scriptures. I also wonder if this might not be quite important for sorting out our different opinions. For me, it´s fundamental that Jesus is not only a religious figure, but also a political leader ("Jesus for president", as Shane Claiborne puts it). That we should read the NT politically and not limit the texts to a religious sphere is a firm conviction of mine, and this is maybe the most important reason why I want to emphasize Jesus as a human being, and his royal/political status.

Jason Pratt said...


{{I wonder a little about your use of the word "religiously" and similar.}}

The shortest answer I can think of, is that I’m using it in the sense in which either of us (I suppose??) would distinguish proper worship of YHWH from idolatry, and in which either of us (I suppose??) would distinguish discussion and claims about YHWH from discussion and claims about a not-YHWH entity.

Obviously, one criteria would normally be distinction of persons. But that isn’t the only criteria, and it turns upon a metaphysical concept: that two distinct persons cannot ever be a single corporate entity. Consequently, from an exegetical standpoint, when other criteria of identification come into play, we find that we have to make an exception in the case of the distinct Persons of ADNY (a plural name for God), our AeCHaD (compound unity) Elohim (roughly speaking, 'heavens'; another plural term applied frequently to God).

The exegetical counter-defense of the mere monotheist must then involve trying to claim that it makes sense, according to the cultural standards of 1st century Jews (and prior), for mere monotheists to speak of merely human agents of God as having the names of God (including names unique to God), the attributes otherwise unique to God, the seat of authority otherwise unique to God, the deeds unique to God, and the honor uniquely due from other humans to God.

Or, since that would seem to be a losing proposition {g}, the exegetical counter-defense has to be that Jesus isn’t in fact claiming-and/or-being-claimed to have all these qualities in the canonical texts, but only a very few limited ones maybe so that he can be compared to high-ranking agents of God in the OT.

The point either way is that orthodox and non-orthodox groups are all trying to deal with the data so as to avoid idolatry while respecting the accuracy and relevance of the data.

{{That we should read the NT politically and not limit the texts to a religious sphere is a firm conviction of mine}}

Certainly I have no problem with Jesus being considered as a political figure. But I do have a problem with merely human political figures claiming (and being claimed) to have attributes and perrogatives proper to God.

{{this is maybe the most important reason why I want to emphasize Jesus as a human being, and his royal/political status.}}

Since orthodoxy involves affirming the full humanity of Jesus, as well as the full divinity of Jesus, that ought not to be a problem. Unless you think there’s a problem with YHWH having royal/political status?


MikeB said...

What value does the Athanasian Creed have, and what "sense" has it "always had" in the westwern Church?

(I ask this because I'm trying to interpret a formal affirmation of my particular denomination, and I find the "damnatory clauses" of this creed a little disturbing.)

Any thoughts?