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Week V: Father, Son & Holy Spirit


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#1 Evangelion

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Posted 12 May 2010 - 08:12 PM

The Divine Hierarchy: Father, Son & Angels
This week I am hoping that Rob will show Biblical evidence for the essential relationship formulae of Trinitarianism:

  • Father = "God", Son = "God" and Holy Spirit = "God"
  • "God" = Father + Son + Holy Spirit

In Week 1 we saw that proving the first does not automatically prove the second, for even if we agree that The Father is God, Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God, it does not necessarily follow that God = the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Both formulae (F+S+HS=G and G=F+S+HS) must be proved independent of each other. Additionally, Rob must show that all three are individual divine persons comprising a single divine being

For Biblical Unitarians, the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit begins with the Father as head of a divine hierarchy:

  • God, the Father: "the Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth" (Genesis 14:19); "God of gods" (Deuteronomy 10:17); "rules over all" (I Kings 18:15); "Father, Lord of heaven and earth" (Luke 10:21); "He alone possesses immortality" (I Timothy 6:16); "Almighty" (Revelation 21:22)

  • Jesus Christ: "the Son can do nothing on his own initiative... I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me. If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true" (John 5:19, 30-31); "I live because of the Father" (John 6:57); "the Father is greater than I am" (John 14:28); "God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36); "God is the head of Christ" (I Corinthians 11:3); "and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God" (I Corinthians 3:23)

  • Angels: "angels came and began ministering to [Jesus'] needs" (Matthew 4:11); "ministering spirits" (Hebrews 1:14); "he did not put the world to come, about which we are speaking, under the control of angels" (Hebrews 2:5); "[Jesus] is at the right hand of God with angels and authorities and powers subject to him" (I Peter 3:22)

Thus we see that the Father is utterly supreme. He is the source of everything that exists and He is above the Son and the angels in every conceivable way, whether functional or ontological. The Son is subject to and dependent upon the Father for his very existence, while the angels are subject to the Father and Son.

Note that Scripture never includes the Holy Spirit in this hierarchy (further evidence that the Holy Spirit is not a person). Even the book of Revelation contains no vision of the Holy Spirit, despite portraying God, Jesus, the heavenly court, and the redeemed saints in multiple instances.


Father, Son & Holy Spirit: in the Bible's Own Words
How does God refer to Jesus? As a subordinate created being whom He brought into existence. As His exalted Son, representative and mediator to humanity:

  • Matthew 3:17, "This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight"

  • Luke 9:35, "'This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him!'"

  • Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; Hebrews 5:5, "'You are my Son; today I have fathered you'"

  • Hebrews 1:9, "You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. So God, your God, has anointed you over your companions with the oil of rejoicing"

  • Hebrews 1:13, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"

  • Hebrews 5:6, "'You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek'"

Galatians 4:4 reinforces this picture, telling us that Jesus was "made of a woman." The Greek word for "made" here is ginomai as in John 1:3. Both occurrences refer to something which was brought into existence. Thus, Jesus' existence has a commencement in time.

How does Jesus refer to God? As his Father and God, the source of his own authority and power:

  • Mathew 28:18, "'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me'"

  • Mark 12:29, "'The most important is: 'Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one''"

  • Luke 22:29, "'Thus I grant to you a kingdom, just as my Father granted to me'"

  • John 3:35, "'The Father loves the Son and has placed all things under his authority'"

  • John 5:22, 26-27, 43, "'the Father does not judge anyone, but has assigned all judgment to the Son... just as the Father has life in himself, thus he has granted the Son to have life in himself... he has granted the Son authority to execute judgment... I have come in my Father's name'"

  • John 17:7, "'Now they understand that everything you have given me comes from you'"

  • John 20:17, "'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'"

  • Revelation 3:12, "'The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never depart from it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God (the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from my God), and my new name as well'"

Trinitarians might argue that many of these verses refer only to functional subordination (ie. difference in rank), not ontological subordination (ie. difference in nature). But if they take this line of reasoning, they must explain their apparatus for distinguishing one from the other. On what basis do they decide that a verse refers merely to functional subordination instead of ontological subordination? What criteria do they use?

In Acts 2:24, the apostle Peter tells us that Jesus was raised by God, Who "released him from the pains of death." Why would "God the Son" require "release from the pains of death"? This unquestionably refers to Jesus' transition from mortality to immortality, with an echo in I Corinthians 15, where Paul tells us that Jesus "became a life-giving spirit." (How can "God the Son" become a life-giving spirit? Surely he already is one?)

How does Jesus refer to the Holy Spirit? As the Father's divine power and presence (occasionally personified), which guides, inspires and empowers:

  • John 14:16-17, "'Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you'"

  • John 15:26, "'When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father — the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father — he will testify about me.'"

  • John 20:22, "And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'"

  • Acts 1:6, "'For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now'"

How did the apostles refer to God? Overwhelmingly as "our Father" and "the God and Father" of Jesus, Who sits at the head of the divine hierarchy:

  • Romans 1:7, "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!"

  • I Corinthians 1:1, "...called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God"

  • II Corinthians 1:2, "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!"

  • Galatians 1:3, "Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ"

  • Ephesians 1:2, "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!"

  • Philippians 1:2, "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!"

  • Colossians 1:2, "Grace and peace to you from God our Father!"

  • I Thessalonians 1:1, "... to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace and peace to you!"

  • II Thessalonians 1:2, "Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!"

  • I Timothy 1:2, "Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord!"

  • Titus 1:4, "Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior!"

  • Philemon 1:3, "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!"

  • II John 3, "Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Son of the Father

How did the apostles refer to Jesus? Overwhelmingly by such titles as "Christ" (Messiah), "our Lord", "our Lord Jesus", "Jesus Christ our Lord", "Saviour", and "our Lord Jesus Christ." Twice they call him "Son of God" (Acts 9:20 & 13:33). They carefully distinguish him from God and specifically identify him as human ("a man", "the man", "himself human"):

  • Acts 2:22, "Jesus the Nazarene, a man"

  • Acts 7:59, "'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!'"

  • Acts 15:11, "'we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus'"

  • Romans 5:15, "the one man Jesus Christ"

  • Romans 1:4, "according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord"

  • I Corinthians 1:8, "so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ"

  • Galatians 6:14, " the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ"

  • Ephesians 3:11, "the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord"

  • I Thessalonians 1:3, "hope in our Lord Jesus Christ"

  • I Timothy 2:5, "Christ Jesus, himself human"

  • II Timothy 1:10, "our Savior Christ Jesus"

  • Titus 1:4, "God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior!"

  • II Peter 1:1, "our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ"

  • I John 4:14, "the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world"

How did the apostles refer to the Holy Spirit? As a miraculous gift from God; the Father's divine power and presence, (occasionally personified), which guides, inspires and empowers — and could be bestowed by the apostles at their own discretion:

  • Acts 2:38, "'you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'"

  • Acts 8:17, "Peter and John placed their hands on the Samaritans, and they received the Holy Spirit"

  • Acts 19:6, "when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them"

  • Acts 20:23, "'the Holy Spirit warns me in town after town'"

  • Romans 15:13, "abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit"

  • I Thessalonians 4:8, "the one who rejects this is not rejecting human authority but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you" (cf. Acts 5:3-4)

  • Hebrews 2:4, "God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit"

Occasionally the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned together in the same context, but not in any way that suggests they are all distinct persons who together comprise the totality of God. Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20, "the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit"), the Father works through the Son via the Holy Spirit (John 14:10, "the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds"), and all three were recognised as sources of apostolic authority (Luke 9:1, II Corinthians 12:11-12, I Thessalonians 4:8). It is therefore natural that they appear together in ways which reflect this relationship:

  • Luke 1:35, "'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God'"

  • Matthew 28:19, "'baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit'"

  • Acts 20:28, "'The flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son'"

  • II Corinthians 13:13, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all"

Throughout the NT we see Jesus' followers expressing these concepts in the same way he did. They recognised the distinctions between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and appreciated that these distinctions formed the basis of their interrelationship. They refer to the Father and Son not only as two separate persons, but also as two separate beings ("God" and "man"). They describe Jesus as "Son of God", not "God the Son" or some other proto-Trinitarian formula.

They treat the Holy Spirit as a divine power which is able to be transferred via the laying on of hands at the apostles' discretion. Using language reminiscent of water, they describe it as something which can "fill up", "baptise", "fall on", "come upon", and be "given." They refer to the Holy Spirit not as God, but as something belonging to God; an attribute of God; an extension of God's divine power and presence.

While it is true that the apostle Paul describes himself as being "poured out" (Philippians 2:17), he never describes himself as being poured out onto, or into, other people (cf. Acts 10:45, "the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles"). When we contrast the number of times the Holy Spirit is described using functional language (including the "water" vocabulary) with the number of times it is personified, we find that the former is overwhelming and the latter is sparse. That is the opposite of what we would expect if the Holy Spirit was a real person.

Since the Holy Spirit is the medium through which God interacts with creation, His words and actions are often attributed to it, just as He is often credited with words spoken by His prophets. This is a literary device carried over from the OT:

  • Psalm 95:7, "For he is our God; we are the people of his pasture, the sheep he owns. Today, if only you would obey him!"

  • Hebrews 3:7, 15, "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, 'Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks!'"

The words are spoken by the psalmist under divine inspiration, so the author of Hebrews attributes them to the Holy Spirit.

In some cases this is more explicit:

  • Psalm 2:1, "Why do the nations rebel? Why are the countries devising plots that will fail?"
  • Acts 4:24-5, "When they heard this, they raised their voices to God with one mind and said, 'Master of all, you who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them, who said by the Holy Spirit through your servant David our forefather, 'Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot foolish things?''"

Here the words spoken by David are attributed to God via divine inspiration. Note the progression: "God... said by the Holy Spirit through... David." Thus, David, through the Holy Spirit, spoke the words of God. (Cf. Psalm 110:1, "Here is the LORD's proclamation to my lord, 'Sit down at my right hand'"; Mark 12:36, "David himself, by the Holy Spirit, said, 'The Lord said to my lord, 'Sit at my right hand''"; Hebrews 1:13, "to which of the angels has [God] ever said, 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet'?").

The natural way in which Scripture interchanges these references throughout the OT and NT is a demonstration of the first-century Christians' adherence to OT Jewish religious teachings. There is no sudden ideological breach between the Testaments.


Jesus Christ: Son of God, Jewish Messiah & Sacrificial Lamb (I)
Central to the relationship between the Father and the Son is Jesus' role as the Son of God and Jewish Messiah. "Son of God" already possessed a generalized antecedent in the OT title "sons of God", applied to angels (Job 38:7, "all the sons of God shouted for joy") and mortal men (Psalm 82:6, "You are gods; all of you are sons of the Most High'"). Faithful believers are described as "sons of God" (Luke 20:36, Galatians 3:26) and Adam is described as the "son of God" since he was created by the Father as the world's first man (Luke 3:38). But when Jesus is described in this way, we are left in no doubt that the meaning contains a unique significance (Luke 1:35, "'Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God'").

We know that the Jews of Jesus' day believed that the Messiah would be the Son of God (Matthew 26:63, "'I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God'"). Here the high priest equates "Christ" ("Messiah") with "Son of God." He saw no blasphemy in the idea that the Messiah would be the Son of God; in fact, the Jewish rulers never objected to this concept. What they objected to was Jesus' claim to be the Son of God, since he did not match their preconceptions about the Messiah's identity and mission.

The use of the term "Son of God" tells us that the person referred to in this way is not actually God Himself. "Of" denotes a distinction between "Son" and "God", not an equivalence. Some Trinitarians try to circumvent this by arguing that "like begets like; human begets human; God begets God." But the analogy fails on several grounds. If true, it would mean:

  • Jesus' divine existence had a beginning in time (which Trinitarianism denies)
  • Jesus' deity is not inherent, but derived from the Father (which Trinitarianism denies)
  • Jesus is a separate being from the Father (which Trinitarianism denies)

Most of the church fathers from the 2nd Century and onwards subscribed to this belief (known as "ontological subordinationism"), which formed the basis of what would later be known as Arianism.

Justin Martyr (ANF 1.170):

We assert that the Word of God was born of God in a peculiar manner, different from ordinary generation


Theophilus (ANF 2.103):

When God wished to make all that He determined on, He begot this Word. He uttered the First-Born of all creation.


Irenaeus (ANF 1.576):

As He was born of Mary in the last days, so did He also proceed from God as the First-Begotten of every creature.


Tertullian (Adversus Hermogenem, III):

Because God is in like manner a Father, and He is also a Judge; but He has not always been Father and Judge, merely on the ground of His having always been God. For He could not have been the Father previous to the Son, nor a Judge previous to sin. There was, however, a time when neither sin existed with Him, nor the Son; the former of which was to constitute the Lord a Judge, and the latter a Father.


Hippolytus (ANF 5.150, 151):

This solitary and supreme Deity, by an exercise of reflection, brought forth the Logos... Him alone did [the Father] produce from existing things. For the Father Himself constituted existence, and the Being born from him was the cause of all things that are produced.


Origen (Contra Celsum, 8.14):

And I am therefore of the opinion that the will of the Father alone ought to be sufficient for the existence of that which He wishes to exist. For in the exercise of His will He employs no other way than that which is made known by the council of His will. And thus also the existence of the Son is generated by Him.


Examples could be multiplied. Suffice it to say that this later Christological development is well recognised by Trinitarian commentators. Catholic theologian Michael Schmaus (Dogma, Vol. 3, "God and His Christ", Sheed and Ward, 1971, p. 216):

The Christian writers of the second and third centuries considered the Logos as the eternal reason of the Father, but as having at first no distinct existence from eternity; he [Jesus] received this only when the Father generated him from within his own being and sent him to create the world and rule over the world. The act of generation then was not considered as an eternal and necessary life-act but as one which had a beginning in time, which meant that the Son was not equal to the Father, but subordinate to Him. Irenaeus, Justin, Hippolytus and Methodius share this view called Subordinationism.


None of these early church fathers were Biblical Unitarians — but they weren't Trinitarians either. In fact, even as late as the 4th Century AD, Christians were hopelessly confused about the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This situation was tackled by three prominent theologians: Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and his brother, Basil of Caesarea. Gregory of Nazianzus gives us some insight into the church of his day when he complains about his fellow Christians (NPNF 2-07):

But, they go on, what have you to say about the Holy Ghost? From whence are you bringing in upon us this strange God, of Whom Scripture is silent? And even they who keep within bounds as to the Son speak thus. And just as we find in the case of roads and rivers, that they split off from one another and join again, so it happens also in this case, through the superabundance of impiety, that people who differ in all other respects have here some points of agreement, so that you never can tell for certain either where they are of one mind, or where they are in conflict.

Now the subject of the Holy Spirit presents a special difficulty, not only because when these men have become weary in their disputations concerning the Son, they struggle with greater heat against the Spirit...


Jaroslav Pelikan (The Christian tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1, University Of Chicago Press, 1975, p.213) quotes Basil of Caesarea as saying:

Of the wise men among ourselves, some have conceived of him [the Holy Spirit] as an activity, some as a creature, some as God; and some have been uncertain which to call him... And therefore they neither worship him nor treat him with dishonor, but take up a neutral position.


Gregory of Nyssa was similarly offended, and wrote a letter to Bishop Ablabius of Nicaea complaining that he and his friends were accused of believing in three gods.

This snapshot of the church in the late 4th Century reveals that the Trinity was still not a fully established doctrine. Christians were still arguing about the identity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit; there was widespread agreement on various points, but not enough to maintain a united church.

Did the first-century Christians believe that Jesus was the God of Israel and the Holy Spirit was a co-equal divine person with him? No; these ideas emerged long after their time. Did the second-century Christians believe in a Trinity? No; many believed in a pre-existent Christ whom they considered a type of divine creature with a finite existence, following the Logos Christology of Justin Martyr and others.

Perhaps the third-century Christians? No; Modalism, and ontological subordinationism were still common in that era. Maybe the fourth-century Christians? No; the identity of the Holy Spirit was not fully defined at the Council of Nicaea in AD325, while the First Council of Constantinople (AD381) left gaps in the definition of Christ's dual nature that would not be covered until the Council of Chalcedon in AD451. The relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit was blurred for centuries.

Rob is somewhat vague about the point at which he believes the church embraced true Trinitarianism, but we receive a general sense that he perceives an implicit Trinitarian Christology within the NT which gave quickly rise to fully-fledged Trinitarianism. Precisely how long this took and what process was involved, Rob does not say. It is one of several questions to which I am still awaiting answers. But the history of Trinitarianism — as admitted by its own theologians — is an excruciating mess of debate, controversy and confusion spanning several hundred years.

How can Trinitarianism be the doctrine once preached by the apostles, whom the Holy Spirit would "lead into all truth" (John 16:13)? It bears no resemblance to their preaching in the book of Acts, or the doctrinal statements in their epistles to fellow Christians. It is absent from the earliest extra-Biblical writings (e.g. the Didache) and the works of the first-century church fathers (e.g. Papias and Polycarp). It is contrary to reason, antagonistic to Scripture, and undermined by the record of history.


Jesus Christ: Son of God, Jewish Messiah & Sacrificial Lamb (II)
Surprisingly, Putting Jesus in His Place (hereafter PJIHP) is light on atonement theology. Genesis 3:14-21 is universally regarded as the bedrock of Christian soteriology, but it's not even mentioned. PJIHP's treatment of Christ's atoning work is almost entirely restricted to a handful of references between pages 209-213.

The argument presented throughout this section (entitled "The Way, the Truth, and the Life") is that Jesus' atoning work is largely predicated upon his ability to forgive sins ("Jesus' contribution to our salvation is not limited solely to his death and resurrection, as great as those redemptive acts are", p.210), but no attempt is made to address Jesus' words to his disciples in John 20:23 ("'If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone's sins, they are retained"'). But if our atonement is primarily based upon the fact that Jesus is God and has the power to forgive sins, is there any need for an atoning death at all?

The Bible's emphasis is on OT typology, which is redolent with the need for a perfect, sinless blood sacrifice. This principle is established in Genesis 3 (coats of skins for Adam and Eve), reaffirmed in Exodus 12 (institution of the Passover) and repeatedly emphasised throughout the Law of Moses, with its complex system of typological offerings. As we have seen in previous weeks, the atonement consists of three main points:

  • Sin deserves death
  • Sacrifice offers a covering for sin
  • Only God can provide a sin-covering sacrifice; a sacrifice which is "other than God"

The sacrifice itself demands two essential qualities: mortality and moral perfection. Under the Law of Moses, moral perfection was symbolised by physical perfection; a sacrificial offering had to be healthy and flawless (Deuteronomy 15:21). Having lived an obedient, sinless life, Jesus fulfilled this typology as the perfect "Lamb of God" without any moral blemish, and was sacrificed for the sins of humanity (John 1:29, I Peter 1:19).

A common evangelical objection to the Biblical Unitarian atonement is that Jesus could not have been morally sinless unless he was God, because all humans are considered sinners from the moment of their birth as a result of "original sin" (or "total depravity", as the Calvinists call it). But Biblical Unitarians do not believe in "original sin" or "total depravity." We believe that human nature is capable of sin and prone to sin, but humans are not regarded as sinners until they sin. Thus Jesus' human nature did not preclude the potential for sinlessness.

This presents yet another weakness for Trinitarianism: the question of Jesus' nature. As an evangelical, Rob surely believes in some form of "original sin"; but how does he view it in relation to Jesus? If Rob's Jesus does not have original sin, how can he be truly human and "made like his brothers in every way"? If he does have it, how can he be sinless? Donald Macleod wrestles awkwardly with this problem (Did Christ have a fallen human nature?) and ultimately concludes that Jesus' nature was not fallen, which leaves him with a Christ who is perilously close to Docetism. (He is contradicted by Karl Barth, J. B. Torrance, Edward Irving and others, who believed that Jesus "assumed 'fallen humanity'"; Oliver Crisp, Divinity and Humanity: the Incarnation Reconsidered, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p.91).

Rob believes Jesus could be tempted, yet was incapable of sin (PJIHP, p.122). But there can be no temptation without the possibility of sin. To deny that Jesus could sin is to deny that he could be tempted, so the statement "Jesus could be tempted but was not capable of sin" is both self-refuting and utterly meaningless. If Jesus cannot be tempted, then Hebrews 2:18 and 4:15 are both false. If Jesus was incapable of sin, then Hebrews 2:17 and Galatians 4:4 are both false.

This is one of many theological contradictions Rob lists in his book. Since by his own admission he cannot resolve them, he simply labels them "paradoxes" and decides that this legitimises the contradiction. But it does not; it merely re-states the problem without addressing the cause. (Ironically, Rob's "paradoxes" would disappear completely if he embraced Biblical Unitarianism).

The traditional method of addressing these Christological contradictions is to argue by reference to the hypostatic union, claiming that Jesus acts and responds "from his human nature" or "from his divine nature" depending on the context. Jesus' physical weaknesses and limitations are attributed to his human nature, while his supernatural capacity is attributed to his divine nature. As far as I can tell, Rob endorses this approach as an effective way to deal with the logical conflict of the hypostatic union. Yet it merely presents new difficulties.

Dividing the Trinitarian Jesus' two natures in this way essentially treats them as two separate persons, thereby lapsing in to the heresy of Nestorianism (see Justin Cloute, Reformed Christology: Modern Nestorianism?, 2000). Reformed Christians have been criticised by Lutheran and Orthodox theologians for their neo-Nestorian Christology, while the Reformed respond with accusations of Monophysitism. Can Biblical Unitarians be legitimately criticised for rejecting Trinitarianism when even Trinitarians cannot agree on their own Christology?


The Message of Reconciliation
A common mistake by Trinitarians is to overlook the differences between the post-resurrection Jesus and the pre-crucifixion Jesus. Biblical Unitarians take these differences very seriously. The man who rose from the dead is the same man who died on the cross, but free from the weaknesses and limitations of mortal humanity. He is not a "mere man"; he is the immortal, archetypal Adam. The perfected man, raised above all creation, imbued with the Holy Spirit beyond measure, whose power is almost limitless and whose authority is second only to God's. We can relate to him because we know he can relate to us.

The Bible describes Jesus' humanity in a way that leaves no room for deity and totally precludes the "God-man" hypothesis. Born as a mortal man and made like his brethren in every way (Hebrews 2:17), he was subject to the Law of Moses (Galatians 4:4) and capable of sin (Luke 4:1; cf. James 1:13-14). His sinless life was made possible by his superior mental and intellectual qualities (Luke 2:46-47), his close relationship with the Father (John 1:18, 10:30, 38), and the angelic assistance he received whenever necessary (Matthew 4:11; Luke 22:43).

We know that he struggled with the awful burden of his task (Matthew 26:39-42; Luke 22:42) and suffered when he was tempted (Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15), but completely resisted sin. As a mortal man, he required release from the pains of death (Acts 2:24) and recognised this need through his prayers and supplications to God, who was able to save him from death (Hebrews 5:7). Submitting obediently to his sacrificial death on the cross (Philippians 2:8; Colossians 1:20) he was raised to life by the Father (Galatians 1:1) and now sits at His right hand in an exalted, glorified form (Mark 16:19; Acts 5:31; Philippians 3:21), exercising divine power, authority and judgement while he awaits his Second Advent (Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 21:27; John 5:27; Acts 1:11; Ephesians 1:20-22).

Biblical Unitarianism's high Christology is based upon a high anthropology. We recognise humanity as the pinnacle of God's creation. Adam and Eve were the only creatures created made in the image and likeness of God, and humans are the only creatures capable of reflecting Him. The first Adam sinned, fell, and lost his relationship with God. The second Adam (Jesus Christ) obeyed and was exalted, offering a way to restore the relationship between God and humanity.

It is that relationship which God now invites us to share through the power and love of His Son. "We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation" (Romans 5:11).
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#2 Evangelion

Evangelion

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Posted 29 May 2010 - 02:47 AM

Rebuttal


The "Threefoldness" of God
Rob,

In your introduction you say:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A literary triad does not equate to an ontological triunity. If you believe it does, the burden of evidence lies upon you to prove it.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#3 Evangelion

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Posted 01 June 2010 - 08:06 AM

Matthew 28:19 (I)
Rob,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Arguments against the authenticity of this clause represent a minority position within Biblical Unitarianism, which has no relevance to our debate. As I mentioned in Week 1, the Matthean formula is central to the Christadelphian baptismal liturgy and I myself was baptised under it.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#4 Evangelion

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Posted 01 June 2010 - 08:07 AM

Matthew 28:19 (II)
Rob,

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

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


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

You say:

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


This falls short of the mark, for two reasons:

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

Unlike Trinitarians, Biblical Unitarians have no need to interpret the verse because it is already consistent with our theology and says everything we need it to say. Matthew refers to the Father (God), the Son of God (whom we know to be Jesus) and the Holy Spirit ("the power of the Most High", as Luke calls it). We that "Son of God" means "someone who is God's son", whether figuratively or literally (see Luke 1:35, 3:38; 20:36, Romans 8:14; Galatians 3:26). We also know that it was a title of the Messiah (John 1:49, "Nathanael answered him, 'Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!'") and that the Jewish leaders correctly understood it this way (Matthew 26:63, "The high priest said to him, 'I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God'").

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

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

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

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

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

Why not just take Matthew at face value? Doesn't it make better sense to accept that he means nothing more than Jesus' words in Matthew 10:41-42, Paul's words in II Thessalonians 3:6, or any of the OT verses we've looked at? Interestingly, you make no mention of the difference between the baptismal formulae of Matthew and Acts. Surely the difference in "name" ("Father, Son and Holy Spirit" as opposed to "Jesus Christ") requires some explanation from the perspective of your interpretation?
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#5 Evangelion

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Posted 01 June 2010 - 08:07 AM

Matthew 28:19 (III)
Rob,

You say:

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


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

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

The NT contains no examples of pneuma being used in the way that Trinitarianism teaches. As in Week 4, you have merely proved that the NT usage of "spirit" as a supernatural being is not suitable for Trinitarian metaphysics. Even if I allowed that pneuma was being used this way in Matthew 28:19, you would only have an additional being alongside God; you would not have an additional person within the Godhead.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#6 Evangelion

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Posted 01 June 2010 - 08:07 AM

Matthew 28:19 (IV)
Rob,

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


For the rest of your argument you simply list passages of Scripture where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned. The net result is to demonstrate that we can always find a place in Scripture where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned together — provided that we draw a large enough circle. In your exegesis, the personhood of the Spirit is always assumed (never proven from the text), as is the deity of Christ. This is a classic example of eisegesis.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#7 Evangelion

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Posted 01 June 2010 - 08:08 AM

John 14:26
Rob,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

You ask:

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


Of course not. Jesus is far superior to the prophets and angels (see Hebrews 1).
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#8 Evangelion

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Posted 01 June 2010 - 08:08 AM

Acts 2:33
Rob,

You say:

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

It's just another of those awkward Trinitarian self-contradictions.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#9 Evangelion

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Posted 01 June 2010 - 08:08 AM

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

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

  • John 14:17, "the spirit of truth"

  • Acts 16:7, "the spirit of Jesus"

  • Romans 8:15, "the spirit of slavery... the spirit of adoption"

  • Romans 11:8, "a spirit of stupor"

  • I Corinthians 2:12, "the spirit of the world"

  • I Corinthians 4:21, "a spirit of gentleness"

  • II Corinthians 4:13, "the same spirit of faith"

  • Ephesians 4:23, "the spirit of your mind"

  • Hebrews 10:29, "the spirit of grace"

  • I Peter 4:14, "the spirit of glory"

  • I John 4:6, "the spirit of deceit"

  • Revelation 19:10, "the spirit of prophecy"

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

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

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

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

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


Thus the NET translators agree that this second reference to the Holy Spirit could be translated "he" or "it"; the personal pronoun is not a foregone conclusion. You have shown us nothing in this entire section of Romans 8 which requires or even suggests that the Holy Spirit is a person, let alone that it is God.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#10 Evangelion

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Posted 01 June 2010 - 08:09 AM

I Corinthians 12:4-6
Rob,

All of a sudden parallelisms are fashionable again (quelle surprise!) But you misapply the rule here, and fail to show any parallelisms in this passage. Scripture contains five different types of parallelism ("synonymous", "antithetical", "constructive", "chiastic", and "stairlike") and none of them are found in this passage. As I demonstrated in my Week 4 rebuttal, a true synonymous parallelism presents a candidate for epexegesis via the presence of a conjunction, juxtaposing the first referent against the second to imply an equivalence. Thus:

  • Psalm 119:105, "Your word is a lamp to walk by, and a light to illumine my path"

  • Matthew 11:30, "For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry"

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

It is important to bear in mind the context of this chapter. Paul is emphasising that the operation of the Holy Spirit is the same wherever it is found, since the Holy Spirit comes from God (verse 11, "it is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things"). There is no difference between the Spirit at work in the Corinthian church and the Spirit at work in the Ephesian church. It is the same Spirit from the same God, testifying to the same Lord. Paul goes on to use this as a basis for his appeal to unity in a series of extended metaphors relating to the body of Christ.

There is no mention of the "triune God", whether implicit or explicit.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#11 Evangelion

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Posted 01 June 2010 - 08:09 AM

II Corinthians 13:14
Rob,

As with I Corinthians 12, there is no suggestion of ontological consubstantiality here. We don't even have any evidence that the Holy Spirit is a person; this is something you must bring to the text.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#12 Evangelion

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Posted 01 June 2010 - 08:10 AM

Ephesians 2:18-22
Rob,

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

Your comments on this passage don't actually prove anything; they merely provide a commentary on your own personal views.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#13 Evangelion

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Posted 01 June 2010 - 08:10 AM

Ephesians 4:4-6
Rob,

Here we have one of the earliest Christian creeds: one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is our Father. The significance of this creed is found in the repetition of "one"; every element of the creed is individual and distinguished from the others.

The body is the church (I Corinthians 10:16; Ephesians 4:12); the Spirit is the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16; Luke 2:27); the Lord is Jesus (Mark 16:19; Acts 1:21); the faith is the Christian message (Acts 6:7; Colossians 1:23); the baptism is immersion by water (Matthew 3:5-6; Acts 8:38); God is the Father (John 17:3; I Corinthians 8:6). That last point seals the deal: God is defined exclusively as the Father. Ontological consubstantiality is notable by absence.

Your attempts to suggest otherwise amount to nothing more than a false dilemma and a non sequitur (the conclusion does not follow from the premise).
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#14 Evangelion

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Posted 01 June 2010 - 08:11 AM

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

My comments on Ephesians 4:4-6 apply equally here. All you're doing is presenting conclusions and asking us to agree with them. You haven't demonstrated that these conclusions are valid, nor even how the evidence supports them.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#15 Evangelion

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Posted 01 June 2010 - 08:11 AM

Conclusion
Rob,

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The most accurate understanding of the Biblical God is the one that adheres more closely to these divinely inspired examples.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.




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