Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Trinities episode 132:10 Apologists’ Mistakes about the Trinity – Part 2

This week I have responded to Dale Tuggy's podcast regarding apologist's mistakes arguing for the Triune God. It's a good episode and very clearly organised as usual, although I think points 1 and 4 could have possibly been combined.

If you are interested (and to make the most sense of my questions to Dale), please check out the episode here :)

Mistake 5. New fangled slogans and grandiose claims

"Gospel and Trinity inseparable". For small-t trinitarians could this not actually be the case? I think it is my case.

4. Dubious proofs of the Trinity from reason
Fallacy: God is perfectly loving only if God is perfectly loving? Is it not rather the fallacy that "God is perfectly loving only if He can be seen to be perfectly loving, i.e. love has to be worked out? I think it is to assume that he has an opportunity to express that love. Is the fallacy not then that this is to presume that God requires the same opportunities to validate that loving characteristic. I cannot really know if I am loving if I do not see it working in my life because I am developmental. God surely is not developmental, right? Also, a ("previously") timeless God still knew that in time he would fully demonstrate his immeasurable love perfectly. That perfect foreknowledge was with Him, correct?

Honesty on a desert island example. Is he compassionate? He might be. Is **might** be enough? Might he also NOT be? Not being God, how can he (or any secret observer) even know? It is not at all obvious to me that he can be said to *be* honest, except perhaps with respect to self-honesty, or honesty within himself (i.e. between his conscious and unconscious).

I think I am "yes" for the fallacy, and "no" for the desert island. :)

3. Speculation about atonement. Agreed.

2. Confusing Trinity with the deity (or even full deity) of Christ. Logos theories were saying this. Is this not also when Docetism hit, which is often confused with God Almighty coming as visible Spirit but not as flesh?

You say: "Originally the Psalm was addressed to a King". Here you were referring to the Psalm referenced in Hebrews 1:8, Psalm 45. Who would have thought those psalm introductory notes would have had an effect on Christology!? But I think they do. So the question I am wrestling with and I ask you if you have had any insight, is could there be confusion (prior 1st century) regarding the addressee of Psalm 45? In several non-Psalter contexts, the words translated "of David" are "to David". But in quite a few places in the Psalms it does seem correctly rendered "of David". If it is correctly David writing, then how natural was it for Israelite kings to address other humans, even their sons, as their Lords? Are there other possibilities, e.g. re-ordering and compiling the psalter resulting in confused introductory comments? This theory has problems because of how Jesus interpreted it - that David is indeed the speaker, even though he definitely doesn't sound like it to me. I'd be really interested to hear your views on this!

1. Linguistic sophistry, echad and Elohim. I actually think this point is quite similar to 4. Is the Schema not more appropriately understood as "YHWH alone"? Why on Earth would it say "YHWH is One"? There are some very obvious reasons for declaring within the Israelites community that there is no space for more than one god.

Out of respect for the Divine name, YHWH is not transliterated but they just replaced it with The Lord. Hurtado blogged about this, citing especially John William Wevers' research into Kyrios in the LXX: "confirming that YHWH is overwhelmingly rendered by forms of kyrios without the definite article (“anarthrous” forms).  In contrast, forms of the word with the definite article (“articular”) are preferred to translate references to other figures who hold a lordly position in the narratives.  As one example, check out Genesis 39:2-3, where the LXX has κυριος (without article) for YHWH consistently, and articular forms of κυριος to translate references to the human/Egyptian “master” in the narrative." (https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/yhwh-in-the-septuagint/)

So regarding the Rule of thumb (unless NT is quoting the OT, the Lord is referring to the Lord Jesus), I wonder if there might be an extra tweak (or simply confirmation) available there to us through the anarthrous kurios data.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Parlez-vous français? Layers of knowledge questioned

As I hope my friends might admit: I do like to question all sides. For indeed, if we are to assume that there are just two possibly correct ways forward in almost any apparent dichotomy is simply to accept the current categorisation system presented. For me, there is not much point in blindly siding with one camp in a debate if both sides hold weak (or potentially weak) positions. Sometimes one position might be overall strong but appeal to a false argument, for instance. That false argument does not disprove the overall position of the arguer, but it does need challenging. One scholar who has helped me a lot is Dale Tuggy, but he is by no means exempt from my approach (as I am sure he would be relieved and proud to learn!), and my recent interactions prove it. I took up of Dale's "challenge" (see his philosophical argument here and my response here, soon to be smashed no doubt on an upcoming trinities podcast episode, hey ho), and I also question the true strength of what you could call a "Jesus' knowledge argument", the subject of this post.

I recently began the latter on Facebook group, trinities, concerning layers of knowledge within a "self" (the eventual subject of this post). I don't do this questioning (or this blog) to be Mr. Inquisitorial or to make some kind of great point about my quest for bias-free truth, as if such a thing could exist, but simply because I am not a fan of partisanship, and also for the reason stated above. I also disagree that bias cannot be reduced through rigorous questioning of all sources (I still have some ways to go with some other authors whom I highly respect and whom I have yet to question in detail, in particular Daniel Wallace and Larry Hurtado), otherwise why on earth bother, frankly?

So let us return to this facebook post, to which I unfortunately cannot provide you the link as it is a closed group (although you can request to join). Here's what I wrote there about a simple dream I had (I wrote it within a few minutes of waking, as it struck me almost immediately as odd):

Last night I had a strange dream I want to share with you. I started to speak to a guy in the dream whom I thought was a vague acquaintance. Only when he looked puzzled back at me and began to stammer [...] did I realise that in fact he was French! So I introduced myself in French and it turned out (in the dream) he was a friend of a good (French) friend of mine, who had also just turned up. 
Why on Earth do I share this? Because as the author of the dream I clearly must have known that the guy couldn't understand me, and yet at the same time I hadn't a clue! What do you make of that?

The response I received was that I didn't intentionally or voluntarily generate the character - it wasn't like I was writing a book.

Before I develop: why is this debate significant? Well there are a couple of non-Tinitarian arguments that seem very powerful to non-Trinitarians (or let's be clearer still, people who don't hold to a Triune-God view) that I don't think need to be seen as total show-stoppers. I don't think they are wrong arguments, but the methodology does not necessitate the conclusions that God cannot be triune. One of these, and it comes up all the time, concerns Jesus' birth, especially Luke 1:35, which has often interested me as a point of reverse bias (I see extensive bias on the Triune-God side too!). I already looked at the non-Trinitarian treatment of Luke 1:35 on a previous post here, which I entitled: Learning to live within the confines of one's own convictions.

So why is the dream story of the French-speaking dude significant? For almost two years now I have been pretty sceptical of the two-natures explanation of Christ, which we inherit from the fifth century ecumenical council at Chalcedon as an accurate interpretation of the New Testament texts. It's a pretty neat solution to a difficult problem. How come Jesus couldn't do this or that if he was God Almighty, like die, for example (for Trinitarians, Jesus did not die according to his divine nature, since God is immortal, but he did die according to his human nature). To be honest, despite its "neatness", it often comes across pretty weird and a fair ol' distance from what the texts themselves are trying to communicate. But there was one particular aspect of the two-nature hypothesis that seemed to me almost plain... stoopid. Knowledge.

However, while I still don't like the two-natures approach, I do now think Triune-God advocates, and the fifth-century Catholic church, may have been in less trouble than some non-Trinitarian positions believe, regarding the issue of Jesus' limited knowledge. Firstly, I think unofficial orthodoxy (excuse me for the oxymoron) actually no longer tries to hold Christ to knowing and not knowing simultaneously - a logical impossibility right, if the one person, Jesus, is a single "knower"?

As far as I can tell, the traditional route was the two natures "solution". This problem nowadays, however, is more generally avoided, not by appealing to the nature flick-switch (human-divine action/ability), but rather, with perhaps some rather heavy reliance upon Philippians 2:7, to plainly state that Christ forewent omniscience when he "emptied himself" or "became nothing" in becoming a servant, a man, after having subsisted in God's form. Since the 19th century, theologians argue about quite when he might have resumed these divine prerogatives, but as you probably spotted in my discussion around Thomas' declaration, I tire quickly these days of Trinitarians attempting to show their Trinity members can be divorced from the others (can Jesus do X or Y without the Holy Spirit?) to dissect them and shove their individual divine stuff under the theological microscope, one after the other. Byuck. That's no longer a Trinitarian methodology I can embrace.




But what my dream showed me was that Tuggy's notion of "self" needs further clarification, at least for me. On his Stanford Encyclopedia entry on the Trinity, he states: "A self is a being which is in principle capable of knowledge, intentional action, and interpersonal relationships." This includes my awareness of my environment and my conscious thoughts, but according to this definition, almost all of my deeper fears, desires, memories and knowledge also, which is 90% under the surface, literally dormant. Ambivalence is common experience we can all relate too: two contrasting and simultaneous emotions. This is totally normal for a human being. So this speaks into too simplistic a view of conflicting wills and also into my knowledge. While Dale might be right in saying I didn't voluntarily create this character, he is saying this with respect to my consciousness (or whatever you call sleep consciousness). Another part of me had a ready explanation.

To conclude, this strange dream experience reminds me that the human mind is a complex entity and capable of contradictory mental processes operating at different levels of awareness. The same could be said of Christ without resorting to either fifth century dogmatic frameworks, or to much more recent kenosis theories.

The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus (3)

This is the third instalment of Iron's presentation in the book I am covering:
In the second post, we looked at his primary arguments of creation (Jesus falls on the creator side of the creator-creature divide, his better argument) and aseity (one's being is from oneself, his weaker argument), and I questioned his true allegiance to the Eastern side of Trinitarian development. Today, we will see that Irons resumes a theme he already opened up slightly earlier around page 11, when he talks of the three stages of Christology, for which I already noted a lack of Scriptural evidence because of the phrasing of the divine exaltation language (there is no sense of resuming or taking BACK what was already his rightfully - or ontologically, if we use a word Irons would use). Let us see if he has anything fresh to add to this problem for his position.

The Exaltation of Christ

Unfortunately, Irons shows excessive confidence in his position for such a discussion when he introduces his progress thus far in this chapter: "At this point, the ontological deity of the eternal Son has been proven. Yet the New Testament has still more to say to "seal the deal" (my emphasis). We will see!

Wow - given some of the difficulties we have already identified in his methodology I struggle to see how he thinks this kind of language helpful to open and thought-provoking dialogue. If it is proven already, then it's game over, right?

He continues: Some have attempted to argue for a 2-stage christology that eliminates the preexistence phase. But this would mean that a human being has been exalted to a position of divine honor that does not properly belong to him according to...ONE OF ... His ontological natureS.

The capitals are mine. As with his inconsistent application of the noun "being", we also see a rather particular use of "nature". Perhaps it is Irons' insistence on Christ being as ontologically divine as the Father that causes him to place greater emphasis on his divine nature. But if he truly believes in the two-natures hypothesis (Christ, fully God and fully man), then we need to qualify this statement to argue that the Father exalted Christ to his right hand, that is Christ's right by virtue of his divine nature. Or have I missed something here? This is explained a bit in this video here.

Regarding the point itself, no, that is not the picture I clearly or directly retrieve from Scripture. If this were the first century picture, then I would like to ask Irons why it is that the notion of Christ resuming his previously-owned divine prerogatives is not made more evident? Does he think it is implied? In Philippians 2 it is a clear act of God the Father to exalt his Son. Christ has now inherited the Name, of Lord. Inheritance is not about resumption is it? He has been sat precisely at God's right hand by God and to God's own glory (Philippians 2:11). Irons nuances things slightly now, but leaves us with the unfortunate Trinitarian predicament that prior to his incarnation, the pre-existent Son, was ontologically divine but NOT of the same status to which he was later exalted. Perhaps it was always ascribed to be his, or something like that.

Pages 17-18 show us the features of Christ's exaltation, however, which according to Irons do demonstrate that his divine honors are linked to his ontological deity as the preexistent Son, rather than some active great action of God the Father (I reject any down-playing of active and necessary involvement of the Father, especially when in direct contradiction of Scripture):

Firstly, Christ's sovereignty is Yahweh's. No mere creature could be given that divine authority as Lord of all creation. Neither Dixon nor Smith accept this conceptualisation of their respective positions, for as I pointed out previously, the 17th century unitarians Irons seems keen to engage with are not present in this debate. I think this "mere creature" lingo is nonsense on quite a few levels. One that is less developed by either Smith or Dixon, is that I also don't think humans are "mere creatures" anyway: I'll reserve that for the bugs and the bees, Deuteronomy 4:15-18. Also humans are God's imagers. The bugs and the bees aren't. If you have a bit of time, see Heiser on this and popular misreadings that contradict sanctity of human life ethics with a theology equating divine image bearing with criteria such as intelligence or choice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=589NDmbH9nk

Secondly, Christ himself is worshipped through his exaltation. "…the NT, which was largely composed by men brought up within and committed to strict Jewish monotheism that abhorred the worship of any creature…" This is particularly with reference to animal idols presumed to contain the spirits of other nations' gods. This has nothing to do with the natural and normal expectation for people before human kings is to prostrate before them (unless they are self-promoting themselves into that realm, as we see with Pharaoh or Caesar for example).

Irons' quote of Larry Hurtado indicates to me he is off-track here: the OT passage [taken from LXX Isa 45:23], the one that is "among the most fervent expressions of God's uniqueness," has been "adapted (and apparently interpreted) to affirm Jesus as supreme over all creation." - Hurtado, How on Earth, p. 50. Hurtado definitely sees that early Christians understood that Christ was made Lord, i.e. God granted "kyrios-ship" to Jesus. This is a very different picture Irons is painting on early Christian worship. I can only hope that either Irons is misreading Hurtado here; anything else could be deliberate mis-representation.

Thirdly, Christ's third feature of exaltation is his Divine Name. Isa 42:8 "my glory I give to no other" - good spot. If we wanted to be picky, we could perhaps remember that Isaiah doesn't say my name of Lord or my authority I will not give to another.

On Philippians 2:10, Irons paraphrases "God has highly exalted his obedient Son Jesus as the one who bears the divine name (my emphasis, we can note that he has a distinct preference for the verb "bearing" over the vocabulary provided in the text itself, which is interesting.) Irons also presumes YHWH in Hebrew or Kyrios in Greek to be synonymous.

A) YHWH IS KYRIOS = OK, ALTHOUGH NON-IDENTICAL

B) KYRIOS IS YHWH = NOT OK AS ASSUMES A) TO BE A STATEMENT OF IDENTICALS, OR INDISCERNIBILITY

Bascially, they are not quite the same. Yahweh is a proper name, Kyrios is not or certainly does not need to be. Any lexicon will point this out that the meaning goes all the way from God Almighty down to "sir". No-one debates that flexibility, and no-one debates that that YHWH is a proper name for Israel's Almighty God. That said, Larry Hurtado also is helpful to us here, as on his blog he quotes research into the usage of Kyrios in the LXX, wherein it is asserted that without the article, especially in the Pentateuch, Kyrios is used as a name when translating YHWH. This is actually data I think Irons could have used to defend his case, but he did not reach to it in later cross-examination.

"The granting of the divine name, YHWH, to the Son is legitimate...". This is interpretative, and it would have been nice of Irons to acknowledge this before throwing it out there. Why? Because, as pointed out by Hurtado and other scholars (see the above link), while YHWH = KYRIOS (in the relative sense), KYRIOS is not identical to YHWH. Irons is going much, much further than the text explicitly permits, which is **simply** (!) a granting of YHWH's "kyrios-ship". The biblical language regarding the nature of this transferral you can check for yourselves: "granting", "inheriting", "giving", etc. It is from the Father to the Son (see my inquiry into causation language here). Therefore trying to state that "the granting of the divine name, YHWH, to the Son is legitimate" is a muddle even on Irons' own terms, because he is on the verge of saying that YHWH is basically the Father, and he would (correctly) avoid at all costs saying that the Father has granted his name of Father to the Son".

And so we arrive at a page which contains for me the two most intriguing quotes of the whole book. It's page 20, and Irons says two quite striking things. The first telling quote:

"YHWH is basically the name of the Father" 

His argument on the preceding page about YHWH not sharing his glory with another would seem to go against that understanding. If YHWH is the Triune God, then YHWH is not basically the name of one member of the Trinity, but the whole shebang, unless he is arguing for some kind of limited revelation of Isaiah. If that is the case, a lot of his Isaiah argumentation is on shaky ground anyhow. But he doesn't make that concession, so we are simply left to wonder quite how he holds his position together. The confusion continues in quite explicit fashion as he repeats:

"Thus, when the Son is exalted, he receives the divine name, YHWH, because it is fitting in terms of his ontological status."

Let us move on directly to the second intriguing quote, later congratulated by Smith:

"I hesitate to say "Jesus is God," nor would I say "Jesus is not God." 

Great! And do you know why? It is because Irons is acutely aware of the problems around the "fallacy of equivocation" (changing the meaning of a word in a philosophical argument). He proceeds in his most key paragraph (I think) of the whole book, wherein he implicitly lays out the problem of confusing nature, personal attributes and order, which Burcot connects with Latin Augustinian Trinitarianism and the subsequent "Athanasian Creed" (see Bercot video around 24 minutes in, nested in the previous post here).

Irons wraps up (p21-22) with a reminder of two grammatically disputed references to Christ being our great God, "No wonder he is called "our (great) God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13; 2 Pet 1:1), and stating: "Millions of ordinary Christians throughout history have confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, exalted at God's right hand as sovereign Lord over all creation, and have put their faith and trust in him as their divine Savior and have worshipped him as such." Oh. This is a surprising ecumenical conclusion that takes the reader quite by surprise, since all parties are likely to agree with this.

Next: Dixon and and Smith's response highlights.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus (2)

This is part 2 of my response to Irons' opening case, which is very focussed on a few specific arguments. This is important to note, as some apologists are not nearly so focussed and are banking on a cumulative effect. For some folk, like myself, this is a less profound or impacting methodology. So, apologies if the previous post was quite critical - it is nothing against Irons or his methodology (except the comment about his and Holmes' use of "being", which I think, is quite telling of the difficulty of the position to which he and other "one-self" Trinitarians hold).

Irons is going to have a lot to say about John - this is right. In my own research I found dozens of suggestive passages in this gospel, and it is the boldest in the claims it attributes to Jesus, and the absolute quietest on the Kingdom of God. One thing Irons rightly highlights is John's emphasis on Jesus coming "in the flesh". Why say that Jesus came in the flesh? That sounds like a strange thing to say if you did not have to defend against faulty thinking about the Christ, one that came from God not in the flesh. So it is readily agreed and understood to be an early or prototype anti-docetic affirmation, a heresy that for some reason Irons neither mentions nor explains. A reason for this perhaps is his keeness to show that the pre-existence of Christ is simply self-evident in such a passage as this. It is a good point that he needs to make in defense of a Trinitarian view, but here it needed better situating, which would have nuanced his quick conclusion somewhat.

Irons leaves John briefly to visit Paul, anticipating the argument that John's writings are late first century, allowing for christological development. He heads unswervingly to Philippians 2, the great, and early christological poem (p12). However, like with some translations (the NIV being among the worst in this instance), Irons does a little paraphrasing. He states:

"Jesus' decision not to regard equality with God as something to be used for his advantage".

Here the lexical decisions are all made for us and all ambiguity removed without any discussion whatsoever. That is a pity.  The Greek word used here by Paul/the poem is rare and difficult to trace within the canon, but outside it is used. Main usage seems to be (and I have checked this in other ancient literature) to pillage, take what is not already owned, like in a raid. So by assuming that this equality with God is something that Christ already has, Irons is steering the translation of Harpagmos away here from a common definition of the word. This assumption ignores other probable (and incompatible) meanings, justified primarily by the exact place he wants to take his readers: pre-existent coequality, which is a separate argument to pre-existence alone. This is therefore a little misleading given the subtitle he provides the reader (simply referring to pre-existence in Paul). A more likely translation is therefore "grasped after", and a more neutral translation that leads both options open (like the NET translation) is simply "grasped": He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, full-stop. The Greek does not allow for anything more.

Now Irons continues by conflating that Jesus:
"humbled himself by becoming a man".

This is a conflation of the Greek. Irons strikes me again as slipping in his conclusion too early into his argumentation. If you want to look more into this you can check out the "raw" Greek here. There is not space here to discuss Philippians 2 more, but I recently did a post on the conclusion to the poem here.

Two tests of ontological deity

"Does divine sonship mean ontological deity in the sense of being eternally part of the divine being?...That is precisely what I believe the New Testament teaches." 

Where does it teach it? Teaching is explicit right? And how does that square with Irons' inconsistent use of "being"? We already saw that just two pages earlier, p11, he has stated that "the Word existed as a divine being distinct from God the Father". Irons is really confusing me now. Quite how does he define being

When he criticises (p. 13) his finally-fictitious counter-arguments for saying that the Trinitarian claim is a noxious exaggeration, I simply noted in the margin that you cannot exaggerate to a category not yet identified, by which I mean Christ's status as the Christ and Son of God is so totally unique and awesome by everyone's standards, that exaggeration is hardly the name of the Trinitarian game. Irons is trying to battle against 17th century Unitarians, but they just aren't present in this discussion.

His first test of ontological deity is one of my own top-suggestive themes in the New Testament: Creation. John, Hebrews and Paul share this creation-by-God-through-Christ language. 

1. John 1 - there is some great context for understanding John's presentation of logos through Philo, which I found while thinking about this. Wikipedia has a great little summary here on Philo. It is important because it precedes John by a few decades and gives us access into a wider philosophical current, and takes us away from thinking that this kind of language was just invented by God who downloaded it to John this way. This passage fails to defend the eternal begetting hypothesis, or that the pre-incarnate Word pre-existed as a son. He might have been, but like any Christian doctrine, you have to widen the search from any one passage, which Irons I think also agrees with, since he continues.


3. Colossians 1:16. This one is a whopper. Unfortunately, especially for someone who claims to be more influenced by the Greek stream (starting with three and working out how they are one), he opts for the confusing preposition "by" in translating "ἐν". What am I talking about? God the Father is always and consistently the source of creation, and that is precisely why the New Testament authors never place the active emphasis of creation on the Son. If the Son (if he was already the Son, but let us assume that for the moment) was both the active instigator and the means of creation, then the Father's role is totally annulled. The roles as clearly delineated and distinguished in the 1 Corinthians passage above do not permit anyone, especially Trinitarians, to translate "ἐν" with "by". NIV realised this on the 2011 revision and changed this. Irons prefers "by", and leaves me wondering why he thinks he is so Greek in his thinking.

The second argument of ontological deity from Irons is Aseity. I feel fairly sure that David Bercot would disagree with Irons, and fundamentally challenge his so-called Greek-allegiance. They would agree on the definition, a se, a latin phrase meaning that one's being is "from oneself". But they would not agree that aseity is a good Trinitarian-Scriptural argument. If you have some time - check out Bercot's video on the doctrine of the Trinity. Some other time I will probably look at it in more depth on the blog.



Aseity is often argued by evangelicals, even when they don't use the word. What it often looks like, in its most ugly guises, is WHO CARES if there is a Father or his empowering Presence? Jesus is everything, he doesn't need anything or anyone, he is GOD. Of course, Irons is not nearly so crass, but the argumentation, heavily reliant on a single verse (John 5:26) - sorry, I meant John 5:26b. For me, Irons scores much better on his creation argumentation than his aseity. We will see what Dixon and Smith have to say later.

In the next post, let us see how Irons treats the exaltation of Christ.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Messy: Louez Adonai

Worship is so often messy, and evangelicalism shares some of its strengths and weaknesses cross-culturally.
I was making an effort this morning in singing this morning heartily qui est semblable, à lion à l'agneau... (Who can compare to the lion and the lamb...)
It's so hard for me because I know full well that the songwriters are not trying to write theological treatises; they humbly want to express ultimate glory to one who is supremely above all and loving. It's a great experience, I can really recommend it. The problem is that the antimodalist in me rarely shuts up for long....
L'agneau sur le trône....Louez ADONAI.
(The lamb upon the throne.... Worship Adonai)


Almighty God, Yahweh, is "Adonai".

The key reference text here I think is quite clearly Psalm 110, to which the New Testament authors refer frequently. Remember that they are most familiar with the LXX (Greek translation of the Old Testament), so they would have read the following:

Eipen Kyrios tō Kyriō mou
SAID THE LORD TO THE LORD OF ME

Nowhere in the LXX is the God of Israel referred to as "Kyriō mou", or "Adoni", as per Psalm 110 in Hebrew. So, once again, and to my dismay, I am distracted from my worship because of extremely well-intentioned but modalist tendencies in the Evangelical tradition.

I wonder what can be done?

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Critiqued: The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus (1)


If like me you are interested in Christology and the ways in which the interpretation of Scripture is affected by the lenses theologians adopt through their respective traditions, and if like me you would like to be more informed of the various arguments out there in a context of respect, then this book is a GOLD MINE. I don't know about you, but I often feel a bit swept away by an author I am reading. 

Here, however, we have three authors superbly sparring and bringing their alternative readings, and it forces you (unless you are partisan) to take a small step back and think for yourself. It is also a golden opportunity for me to critique all three views for apparent inconsistencies and unwarranted assumptions as per my own personal quest. The book is excellently prefaced by James McGrath, who also points out the friendship between the authors, which highlights the potential for fruitful dialogue rather than a shouting match.

Charles Lee Irons kicks off with his main presentation, which I will be covering here. It is well written and focusses on some good points, although I think there are some flaws in his approach which I will be pointing out.

Irons kicks off on page 3 by quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th Century New England Unitarian minister: "noxious exaggeration about the person of Jesus". He then states: "Dixon and smith... Presumably would agree with him there." They never do.

On the following page he points out that the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation are interconnected and inseparable. I think that is a point that most would broadly agree with, although, as we shall, his doctrine of the Trinity could be quite Augustinian. When Irons states for the first time that "God... gave him [Jesus] divine honor fitting for one who is eternally divine.... God exalted him -I scribbled a question in the margin that for me is a point I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer from hard-core Trinitarians -> [exalted] for the first time?

On page 6, Irons continues in his tactic to use loaded vocabulary: The "Son of God" title cannot be reduced to "Son of David" or "Messiah". It is true that the titles in Christ overlap without being identical, but Irons needs to be careful here, because are the other two titles he uses necessarily synonymous? By continuously throwing in words like "noxious exaggeration", "reduced", "mere", and so on, Irons is preparing both himself and his readers to not listen clearly to quite how the alternative views they are going to hear differ. Even within his own thinking it does not make much sense to talk about "reduced to" here, since Christ Himself fulfils all these roles. He is clearly desperate not to apply reductionist ideas to Christ, and I think fails to realise that this goal overlaps fully with both of his interlocutors.

On page 7, Irons lays out an argument that I find distinctly weak, because he reads a passage from the synoptic tradition where Jesus' identity is shown to be more than (or different to) a simplistic understanding of "Son of David". So if he's right in stating that this tradition states something correctly, why do I call the argumentation weak? The passage is based on Jesus' question to the Pharisees, which has a rhetorical climax that Irons misses, as he does not seem to fully understand the functional organisation of the rhetoric in Jesus' questioning of the Pharisees. There are three questions:

1. What do you think about the Christ?
2. Whose son is he? --> this is still part of the build-up, but here Irons interjects that the rhetorical climax is already revealed, thus diminishing the climax: "Yes, he is the son of David, but that cannot be all he is, for...". No. There are a few pages analysing how Jesus was shown to use rhetoric in my paper Trinitarian Interpretations, where I try to establish how, in line with general function of rhetoric, there is an unspoken form of required negative response, so obvious that it does not need stating. Whose son is he is not rhetorical, if it were, then the correct and obvious rhetoric response would be "no-one's son"! But this is a normal question requiring the normal answer.
3. How is it then that David calls him Lord?
When Irons now paraphrases: What ancestor calls his descendant "Lord", he seems to misplace the climax of the rhetorical questioning, which only arrives at #3, not #2, as Irons supposes.
The unfortunate conclusion in this paragraph of Irons is that "son of" = less than the person you are son of. Caution! Irons could be on very thin ice if he wants to demonstrate that in actual fact the Son is coequal with the Father.

On page 8, Irons seems weak again as he attempts to demonstrate a fundamental difference between Christ's sonship and the sonship of his disciples, stating that Jesus always makes the distinction of my Father and your Father, but never of "our Father", only, as Dustin Smith also later points out, Jesus does indeed state "our Father" in the Lord's prayer!

Irons soon gets to work on the charges of blasphemy to which Jesus was held answerable. I am not generally impressed by the blasphemy arguments, in part because the word "blasphemy" does not mean "to claim that you are Almighty God". Literally, the Greek word means "slander" and is impossibly translated elsewhere as a claim to ultimate divinity. With that in view, along with all the other clear distinctions made between Christ and God in the gospel of John, I argued in my paper that the John 10:33 passage could legitimately be translated "Make yourself god", rather than trying to replace God Almighty's functions or actually simply claim to be him (an argument bolstered by the fact that the word theos is anarthrous).

On page 9, Irons makes something of another messianic claimant (AD 131 - 135, a hundred years later, which leaves big fat wodge of assumptions that are presumably deemed unsignificant - same political climate, same number of followers, same threat over local unrest...), Simon bar Kosiba. My question concerning bar Kosiba: How did he treat the established religious authorities?

On page 10, Jesus is developed as the Revealer or Image of the Father. Since I am still going through Michael Heiser's Unseen Realm, I couldn't help thinking that this would have been really good to draw in Heiser's work on Genesis here, showing God's intention for man to be Yahweh's imagers on Earth, subdue it and govern it on his behalf as he would. No-one until Christ managed that. Irons also disses James Dunn's understanding that "there is more to God that what could be seen in and through Jesus" using Col 1:19 "in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" --> Here I really wanted to know what Irons thought of the kenosis of Philippians 2: if he sides with the giving up of certain divine prerogatives, then Irons can't include here that which the Kenosis of Phil 2 precludes, right? Of course maybe he does not treat Philippians 2 that way. We will no doubt see later, but the point is you can't argue a full-throttle Col 1:19 on the one hand, and then scale back when it suits you, so I am kind of hoping that Irons does not attempt that manoeuvre.

Irons concludes this section with "To see the Son is to see the Father". He seems to take this in a rather literal, wooden way, not recognising the poetic nature of John's writings designed to cause readers to reflect deeply.

Page 11 discusses pre-existence and the incarnation, and I was encouraged to see Irons' care to state that sonship of God, as a sacred relationship that was so scandalous it provoked the Jewish leadership to charge Jesus with blasphemy. --> THIS STILL IS THE CASE IN ISLAM! (Some Muslims confusingly argue that Christians are misguided in thinking that Christ is fully divine according to our own Scriptures, and yet also, on a separate battlefield, will claim that those same texts are in fact corrupted anyway).

Our first author now focusses on preexistence specifically in the Johannine literature, and seems to make another strange and unorthodox move with his use of "being": "the Word (the Logos) existed as a divine being distinct from God the Father". This is an interesting statement, as while most Trinitarian theologians are keen to highlight that God is a single being, (within that one being there are not three other beings, but three persons, or hypostases), I notice some other brilliant scholars saying similar things, including one of my favourites, Stephen Holmes, as in his Fuller lecture that I mention in the end of my Trinitarian Interpretations paper.

When Irons quotes John 1: "He was in the beginning with God", I noted as a point of interest in my margin that this "he" in some French bibles is actually a "she" (elle), since what is actually be referred to is THE WORD, which is the feminine word la parole. There is nothing inherently masculine in the Greek word, unless you want it there of course.

On the subject of "wanting" the text to say things it doesn't - and I don't think either Dixon or Smith, the other contributors to this great book, pick up on this - Irons is without doubt guilty of this at points on the question of pre-existence and exaltation. On page 11 he writes:

there are several passages where Jesus speaks of three phases of his existence: the time before he came into the world, his earthly ministry, and the time when he goes back to the Father. For example, he says, "I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going [back????] to the Father" (John 16:28). 

The first "back" is from Irons' interpretive position, supposedly preparing the reader for precisely that same clear reality in the text, where it is precisely missing.

OK - this was longer than I thought so I guess I should pause here for tonight!

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Louer le Christ et Dieu le Père: comment Philippiens 2:11 remet droit dans des endroits bizarres

Les chrétiens charismatiques et évangéliques sont souvent très passionnés de louer Jésus: et c'est super ! C'est précisément ce que la Bible enseigne de manière explicite. Dans cet article, cependant, nous allons voir comment les évangéliques et les unitarians peuvent se louper tous les deux, en ce qui concerne un des nuances les plus importantes de l'église primitive (et pour une fois je ne distingue pas l'église du premier siècle et celle du quatrième, malgré les énormes développements pendant cette période).



A droite de cet article il y a un ensemble de mots clés en anglais: is vous cliquez sur le mot clé "worship", vous vous rendrez compte que c'est un sujet qui pour moi a un réel intérêt, en partie puisque j'ai participé à la direction des temps de louange pendant une dizaine d'années. Ces articles (qui un jour devront être intégrés dans un site à part qui militera contre les expressions modernes du modalisme) croisent les paroles, les vidéos et des analyses théologiques sur quelques chants de louange les plus récents. Ca va de inoffensif au choquant, dont le pire a été acclamé comme le "grand-père" de la louange trinitaire moderne (le chant par Chris Tomlin s'intitulé en français O Dieu Tu Es Grand, voir ici). Le problème c'est que pour certains de ce chants, l'idée de louer Christ à la gloire de son père est absent, comme si on ne voulait adopter qu'une partie du poème christologique de Philippiens 2.

Comment réagissent ceux qui ne se décrivent pas comme "Trinitaires", lorsqu'on évoque l'idée que la louange est destinée uniquement à Dieu? D'abord, il est dit que le mot proskuneo en greque a un sens plus large qu'en français, et que c'est appliqué et attendu en présence de la royauté humaine, comme devant un dieu. Un passage de l'ancien testament souvent rappelé, là où Yahweh et le roi David reçoivent la louange du peuple (1 Chronicles 29:20  Et David dit à toute la congregation: Benissez l'Eternel, votre Dieu. Et toute la congregation benit l'Eternel, le Dieu de leurs peres; et ils s'inclinerent, et se prosternerent devant l'Eternel et devant le roi.)

Puisque les mots en hébreu et en greque veulent dire d'origine "se prosterner", les versions en français sont généralement prudentes à préserver cette signification.

Deuxièmement, il est rappelé que dans le livre de l'Apocalypse en particulier, la louange pour Jésus le fils de Dieu est spirituelle, religieuse voire "divine", mais que même dans ce contexte-là, Dieu et Jésus sont toujours clairement distingués (peut-être d'une manière similaire à ce qu'on retrouve en ephésiens 1, là où Jésus, exalté et assis sur son trône avec autorité sur toute la création, Jésus est aussi distingué du père et dieu de Jésus. Deux fois en plus.) Mais est-ce que cette louange de Christ est du même ordre que celle décrite dans l'ancienne testament pour le roi David, à côté de Yahweh?

Non.

Paradoxalement, comme certains auteurs de chants évangéliques aujourd'hui, les non-Trinitaires ne méditent pas assez non plus la fin du poème christologique au deuxième chapitre de l'epitre aux Philippiens.


A   L A   G L O I R E   D E   D I E U   L E   P E R E

La médiation (je veux dire l'équivalent de Agency en anglais) est un phénomène bien documenté en ce qui concerne la période du deuxième temple du peuple juif, et cette notion continue dans le nouveau testament aussi. Des fois en désirant tellement à souligner les distinctions nombreuses entre Jésus et Dieu dans le nouveau Testament, les non-Trinitaires peuvent perdre de vue que la médiation agit dans les deux sens. Non seulement Jésus est le médiateur du salut Dieu envers l'homme (voir 1 Tim 2:5), mais selon Philippiens 2:11, Jésus est aussi le médiateur dans le sens retour d'une louange destinée finalement au père. Je voudrais souligner que je ne pense pas que le modèle de Philippiens est totalement représentatif ou normatif, et cela en partie puisque le modèle du Chronicleur est renouvellé dans l'apocalypse.

Qu'est-ce que c'est drôle que les deux filtres interprétatifs pourraient trébucher un peu sur Philippiens 2:11, lorsqu'ils se disputent tellement sur la signification du contenu du reste du poème.

Bonne louange trinitaire!

Worshipping Christ and God the Father, Philippians 2:11 bringing correction in paradoxical places

Charismatic and evangelicals are typically very excited about worshipping Jesus: and that's great! That is precisely what the Bible teaches explicitly that Christians should do. In this post we shall see, however, how both Charismatics and Unitarian expressions of worship can miss one of the most important nuances of early Christianity (and for once I am not dividing first and fourth century beliefs, despite the huge developments in this period).



To the right of this post there are a bunch of keywords: if you click on the keyword "worship", you will realise that this topic is of real interest and concern to me, partly because, I helped lead worship in my local church for about 10 years. These posts, which one day should be integrated into a separate website flagging up the dangerous expressions of modalism in church (I am an antimodalist!), combine worship lyrics, videos and theological analysis of a few of the more recent "offerings". They range from inoffensive to shocking, the worst of which has incredibly even been hailed as the "grandfather" of modern Trinitarian worship (Chris Tomlin's "How Great is our God", see the post here). The problem is that with some of these songs, the notion of worshipping Christ to the glory of his Father is absent. It is like we want to adopt just part of the famous Philippian's poem, or pay lip-service alone to the final lines.

How do non-Trinitarians (or as I am now preferring, non-Triune God advocates, I should post on this soon) respond to the idea that worship is supposed to be for God alone? First it is stated that the word for worship in Greek (proskuneo) has a wider range of meaning than in English, and is applied and expected in the company of human royalty as well as before a god. One Old Testament passage is frequently cited where both Yahweh and the king (David) receive worship from the people (1 Chronicles 29:20  Then David said to the whole assembly, “Praise the LORD your God.” So they all praised the LORD, the God of their fathers; they bowed down, prostrating themselves before the LORD and the king). Because the Hebrew and Greek words also mean physically prostrating, most translations are careful in that instance to use the prostrating option (you can see the proskuneo choices at play in Matthew 2 in the birth of Jesus). Secondly, it is stated that in the book of Revelation in particular, worship for Jesus the lamb of God is actually spiritual, religious or even "divine", but that even in that context, God and Jesus are still carefully distinguished (perhaps in a vein similar to Ephesians 1, where even exalted and enthroned with authority over all creation, Jesus is still distinguished from Jesus' father, who is also Jesus' God. Twice). But is this worship of Christ of the same order as that which was required toward the Old Testament kings of Israel alongside Yahweh?

No.

Paradoxically, like some charismatic songwriters, Non-triune God advocates may also fail to chew sufficiently on the end of the christological poem in Philippians:

T O   T H E   G L O R Y   O F   G O D   T H E   F A T H E R

Agency is a very well documented second-temple Jewish dynamic, including in the inter-testament period, and this continues into the New Testament (e.g. have you ever noticed that in Hebrews Jesus is referred to as God's apostle? Another post needed...) . The point is that sometimes in a desire to stress the distinctions between Jesus and God, non-Triune God advocates can perhaps lose focus of the fact that agency (mediation) works two ways. Jesus does not only mediate God's salvation to mankind, but he mediates worship back to the Father. I don't think the Philippians model is totally representative or normative, in part because you do have the Chronicles model (Christ and God the Father receiving worship alongside) renewed in Revelation.

How odd that both these interpretive lenses might stumble on Philippians 2:11, when they disagree so fiercely on what the rest of it means.

Oh yes, one final thing. A rather arrogant site here (Canadian - not usually known for being arrogant, but there you go) defending the doctrine of the Triune God points out that antiTrinitarians (God help them) are silly, blind etc to miss that the poem Paul cites clearly paraphrases a passage in Isaiah 43:23-24, where it is to Yahweh that everyone must bow and every tongue confess allegiance. Not only that, but Paul himself brings that passage back up again in Romans 14:9-12 and applies it to the Father. So this OT passage for Paul, it is claimed, is applied to both the Father and the Son. That is correct, but it can still fail to integrate fully Jesus' two-way mediation and inherited name (Hebrews 1). The Father is always in the picture.

Happy trinitarian worshipping!

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Titus: "God our Saviour", some hazy light...

In my christological studies, I have frequently noted that Titus has been a little book that is a bit... well, different. The reason for that was that in the epistles accredited to Paul, I found strong evidence (approx. 90% "green", see my paper Chapter 5 for methodological classification) for distinction in his thinking between between "God", the Almighty, the one Jesus called "Father" and "my God", Yahweh, etc., and Jesus Christ, His Son. For Paul that distinction is not one he was purposeful in stressing, it simply flows out of his exhortations from the very opening verses of greeting.

Titus struck me as different because on several occasions it seemed that Jesus was simply understood as God our Saviour, or that the title was used indiscriminately between the Father and the Son. Today I was struck by what may well be a theological assumption on the part of those translating the Greek in the opening verses of Titus, which contain a translation problem. Why is it problematic? It's to do with possessives (genitive).



Let's take an example of a local member of parliament. In British English we talk all the time of "my MP". Ben Bradshaw has been Exeter's Labour MP since 1997. As a citizen of Exeter, Bradshaw was "my" MP. For the first 10 years, Bradshaw was Tony Blair's MP for Exeter too, but the possessive construction here means something quite different. I was just one of thousands of constituents of Bradshaw, my sole MP. For Blair, Bradshaw was just one of dozens of MPs across the country. So how might you express grammatically and using both possessives the relationship between an Exeter citizen and the Prime Minister, via the intermediary Member of Parliament? We might say: "A constituent of Tony Blair's MP for Exeter". More woodenly, the "of" pattern goes:

The constituent of the Member of Parliament of the Prime Minister (please ignore the middle "of" for now!) = the PM's MP's constituent.

That's not too bad is it? Now what if Ben Bradshaw required something of us, his constituents? Let's call it the MP's edict. I also want to remind you in the same breath that Bradshaw is Blair's MP. As the PM's MP and also as our MP, we can understand that this edict comes under the authority of our MP-who-is-Blair's-MP. It is an edict from our Member of Parliament, that is to say from his (the Prime Minister's) Member of Parliament. It is a really awkward combination of things to try to express in one sentence, but I think it is precisely this combination that the Pauline author is condensing in Titus 1:3-4, and I think we can demonstrate it.

Verse 3 concludes: according to the command of the saviour of us of God.
Of the Saviour of us: tou [OF THE] Sōtēros [SAVIOUR] hēmōn [OF US]
Of God: Theou [OF GOD]

Verse 4 continues immediately to state:
to Titus,N-DMS
1103 [e]gnēsiōγνησίῳ[my] trueAdj-DNS
5043 [e]teknōτέκνῳchild,N-DNS
2596 [e]kataκατὰaccording toPrep
2839 [e]koinēnκοινὴν[our] commonAdj-AFS
4102 [e]pistinπίστιν·faith:N-AFS
5485 [e]charisχάριςGraceN-NFS
2532 [e]kaiκαὶandConj
1515 [e]eirēnēεἰρήνηpeaceN-NFS
575 [e]apoἀπὸfromPrep
2316 [e]TheouΘεοῦGodN-GMS
3962 [e]PatrosΠατρὸς[the] Father,N-GMS
2532 [e]kaiκαὶandConj
5547 [e]ChristouΧριστοῦChristN-GMS
2424 [e]IēsouἸησοῦJesus,N-GMS
3588 [e]touτοῦtheArt-GMS
4990 [e]SōtērosΣωτῆροςSaviorN-GMS
1473 [e]hēmōnἡμῶν.of us.

The Saviour of us is there again, although this time much more clearly distinguished from the one who is called God, the Father.

Now a Trinitarian translation might favour the more simple removal of the second "of" in verse three to state "according to the command of God our Saviour", that is to say something like Theou is simply re-stating that the command is OF the saviour of us, which is to say OF God = Jesus is God. I have heard it argued that whenever the Father is in view, any title of Theos is reserved for him, and Jesus' title can be Saviour or Lord right next to him (literally ruling at the Father's right hand). I am sceptical of that interpretation here precisely because of such obvious proximity of the word Theos in verse 3. If Christ is our Saviour as verse 4 clearly and most explicitly specifies, then verse 3 being simply too close and the Greek wording between the two verses being absolutely identical to permit this permutation of idea. In other words, in verse 4 there are three parties grammatically present: God the Father (1), Jesus Christ the Saviour (2) of us (3).

But what alternatives are there? There is the alternative of the constituents/MP/PM triple-show I spelt out earlier. This means that we can insist that it is not an accident that the word in Greek used for God is in the genitive case, theou, and that the object over which God has possession is not his commandment that he is entrusting to Paul, but that the object is in fact the Saviour of us, Jesus Christ. This is quite an awkward Greek construction to translate, but what it achieves is a much more consistent reading of Titus, whereby the Saviour is consistently Christ. Christ is God's saviour, not that he saved God, but that he is the saviour through whom God mediates salvation for man. Jesus is God's saviour and God's Messiah elsewhere in Scripture too:

Acts 13:23 reads:
From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised.

Revelation 11:15 reads:
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.

This is not an anti-trinitarian argument, it is a non-trinitarian argument over which various interpretations should be able to find agreement, since Trinitarians do not hold that "Jesus is of God" to be unorthodox, since they believe that the Scriptures teach the eternal generation by the Father of the Son, who was sent by the Father into the world.

I also concede that in 2 Timothy 1:10 the genitive following "saviour of us" states "Christ Jesus" but I stress that this is a secondary consideration from a separate context and document.