The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP addresses recent crits vs. trinitarianism from scripture

•• Jesus states that he is not the One Who is Good in Matt 19:17; Mark 10:10; Luke 18:19. ••

In none of these three reports of the same incident, does Jesus declare that he is not the One Who is good.

Jesus does ask the man why the man, who had called Him ‘good teacher’, is calling Him ‘good’, and affirms that there is One Who is good, God. (A variation of the Shema. Which in Hebrew, though not in Greek, is an affirmation of a compound unity, AeCHaD.) While this could be read as some kind of correction to the man (himself a young religous expert and leader) about Jesus’ own identity, it can also be read as a rabbinic double-meaning tease, leading the man toward acknowledging Jesus as God.

Is there contextual evidence toward this view rather than the other? Yes there is: when the young ruler professes that he has kept the commandments in regard to other people (the so-called second tablet of the ten commandments), Jesus recommends that he should set aside what he loves most (his money) to follow Himself, in order to be complete in following the commandments. But the other commandments (the so-called first tablet) are about following God! Jesus, in all three Synoptic accounts, is making an identification claim with being the God Whom faithful Jews should be following. It would be blasphemously presumptious for any mere human, even a Jewish rabbi (who of all people would be least likely to do this), or even a high-ranking cosmic being, to point toward following himself as a parallel to following God in the ten commandments. (Indeed, any high-ranking cosmic being who tried this, who wasn’t God, would be identifying himself as a Satanic-level rebel instead.)

This objection, consequently, suffers from ignoring the rest of the story being referenced.

•• The three cognate terms often translated “Godhead” in English Bibles, do not have connotations of multiplicity. But trinitarian theologians say that “Godhead” does have connotations of multiplicity. ••

Those same NT theologians don’t rely on any of the three appearances of that Greek term, in itself, in the NT, as scriptural evidence for trinitarianism, though. At least, competent trinitarian scholars do not. (What ignorant or desperate trinitarians do on the internet is their problem, not mine.) Merely connecting the English term “Godhead” with the concept of the Trinity, is not the same as using the three cognates in the NT (sometimes translated as “Godhead”) as evidence in themselves for the Trinity.

In fact, the original translation of the term into English meant what we would call “Godhood” today, with “Godhead” being an archaic English way of saying the same thing.

Trinitarian scholars note that there are at least two Persons in NT Scripture (the Father and the Son) Who are credited with the original and continuing creation/existence of all derivative reality; and so we sometimes speak of this original divinity as the Godhead in a different archaic English sense, going back to Greek: God as the arche, or source, of existence. The two term uses became conflated later.

That being said, the use of ‘theotes’ in Col 2:9 is often agreed even by non-trinitarians to mean the total and ultimate divinity. When trinitarian scholars appeal to this as part of their exegetical case, though, it’s because of the wider contexts of Col 1-2, not because ‘theotes’ has some intrinsic meaning of multiplicity. (As AeCHaD does, for example!) See the digest for further discussion on the first chapters of Colossians.

•• Thomas in John 20:27-28 was only saying that Jesus was his supreme godly leader. ••

Certainly that isn’t being read out of the relevant scripture. It’s an attempt to try to come up with some other meaning that will fit another kind of theology.

In principle this might not be a bad thing; although speaking as an avowed monotheist I would rather not address someone less than God Supreme as my “supreme godly” leader!

Be that as it may. Thomas in the Greek text is not addressing Jesus as (or vocatively declaring Jesus to be) a god. He is addressing Jesus as, and/or vocatively declaring Jesus to be, the god of himself: literally the phrase is “the god of me”.

More discussion of this passage can be found in the scriptural digest document. To briefly report here: in both Hebrew and Greek the eternal self-existent God is implied with 100% certainty elsewhere in the Bible with the form “the lord of me and the god of me”.

•• The true self-existent divinity can only be 100% implied by the use of ‘kurios theos’. There are zero examples of the Messiah ever being referred to as ‘kurios theos’ anywhere in the Bible, except in Jude 1:4 where the same term means a lesser title than “Lord God”. ••

The worth of this argument, as it stands, hardly needs more comment.

But for whatever solace it may be worth to the one who tried this argument: Jude 1:4 doesn’t use ‘kurios theos’ as that phrase in regard to anything or anyone. “Lord” and “Owner” are applied to Jesus Christ (as our only lord and master), and “our God” is used just previously nearby, but even trinitarians are typically willing to accept that use of ‘theos’ in regard to the Father. (A lot more can be said about Jude 1:1-5, including in textual transmission, though; see the digest for details.)

Interestingly, this complaint was launched by someone who accepts a secondary textual reading of “the only Lord God” (using ‘despot’ not ‘kurios’) at Jude 1:4, which one might have supposed would innoculate against identification with “our Lord Jesus Christ” afterward in favor of identification with “our God” a moment earlier in the text; yet this critic wants to strenuously emphasize that “the only despote_n God” is a lesser god than “our God” just earlier in the same verse.

{Despote_s} is certainly used for the God Who makes heaven and earth and all that is in them, in Acts 4:24; and is apparently the God being addressed by Simeon in prayer in the Temple upon seeing the baby Jesus. Possibly this critic does not acknowledge YHWH as the creator of heaven and earth; but more likely he is trying to avoid having to recognize the Angel of the Presence as being both YHWH Himself and also a distinct Person in comparison to the invisible YHWH (treating the Angel as only God’s proxy instead, as this critic tends to do in his paper.)

It is the late textual emendations of Jude 1:4, however, some of which were gathered together for the so-called Textus Receptus, which read “denying the only Lord {despot} God and our Lord {kurios} Jesus Christ”. The earlier Greek texts (not used for the TR) read “denying the only Master and Lord of us Jesus Christ”: kai ton monon despote_n kai kurion he_mo_n Ie_soun Xriston arnoumenoi. (The verb at the end is “denying”.)

The Textus Receptus reading can still be translated from Greek as “and denying the only Owner, God, even our Lord Jesus Christ”; which, if I had to guess, is probably the main reason why the critic wishes to identify this as a lesser “lord” or “master”.

•• AeLoHYM in the Old Testament, when used by itself, only refers to magistrates of God. Consequently, if Jesus is referred to in NT texts, in ways which identify him with an AeLoHYM of the OT, this cannot mean he is being identified as the Lord God. ••

The famous Psalm 45 reference to Jesus as the AeLoHYM whose God is AeLoHYM, is enough to dispose of the principle of this attempt: the reference of the first Elohim is to some kind of single entity, not to plural magistrates–which in itself is practically unique in the OT outside of reference to God–and this single “magistrates” is supposed to have multiple magistrates of God (multiple gods, not God Himself) as his gods?? (Therefore Elohim, the Elohim of you *, has anointed you with the oil of joy above your fellows.)

I suppose it’s a good thing this critic emphasizes elsewhere that he does not promote the use of the word ‘god’ and ‘gods’ to indicate those who serve God or to indicate those who are children of God, “as this borders on pagan polytheism”!*

•• Some rabbis translate Isaiah 9:5 as meaning that the Messiah shall be called “wonderful counselor of the mighty God”. ••

This would work better if there was a consonant in that sentence designating a prepositional phrase. But there isn’t. (Notably the critic who tries this, first attempts to treat the remaining two titles as prepositional phrases, too; and then tries a “middle way” where the second two phrases are not prepositional phrases.)

It’s the same title used by Isaiah in 10:21, where no one (to my knowledge) bothers to translate it as anything other than AL NBWR. (Though interestingly, the AL or El is doubled in the title at 10:21.) The Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh vowel-points the two instances a little differently, but even they agree the phrase is not itself the object of a preposition in English translation.

(They make the preceding term out to mean something different than “Wonderful Counselor” or “Wonder of One Counseling” instead, specifically so that the whole phrase would read “the God of Might is planning grace”. Probably this is to avoid associating the term PLA (not to be confused with our English ‘plan’, by the way) with the name of the Angel of YHWH from Judges 13:17-18. I have yet to see even a literal translation of PLAYW/RSh that would indicate the subsequent noun is planning something; but as this goes beyond my competency I’ll cede the possibility to those who know better.)

The term itself could be translated “God of Might” (and thus at Is 10:21, “God, God of Might”). But that is of no help for this oppositional attempt.

•• Other “sons of Elohim” existed at the creation of the world (Job 38:7), so the pre-existence of Jesus Christ as a son of God doesn’t necessarily mean anything. ••

I note that this objection contravenes the same critic from trying to insist elsewhere that “son of God” does not refer to Jesus himself but to the power of the Father working in Jesus. But be that as it may; not every critic tries both tactics, and this one is probably more popular.

Strictly speaking, this criticism is correct: the mere existence of Jesus at the time of creation (so to speak) does not in itself indicate that Jesus is somehow the maximal creator deity (along with the Father). Sharing in the task of creation, both originally and ongoing, in language reserved for the highest possible God, would however be scriptural evidence toward being the maximal creator deity–especially if that creation included the making of those other sons of Elohim over there as ministering servants. (See the digest for details on what kind of pre-existence of Christ is being talked about in the NT.)

The main point is that trinitarians, along with some but not all other Christian groups, acknowledge that Christ is a pre-existent entity of some kind. What kind of pre-existent entity depends on textual evidence other than that of just pre-existing this natural system. The case isn’t shut in favor of trinitarianism by noting pre-existence, but it would be shut against trinitarianism (along with many other kinds of Christianity, those which profess the deity of Christ and even some which don’t like classical Arianism) if pre-existence was denied in the scriptures.

•• Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and into the eon. (Heb 13:8) Therefore, he cannot be in any way the God Who is the only other entity in scripture spoken of in similar terms. ••

This argument speaks for itself.

But, even if I granted that Christ is not ever presented elsewhere (such as, for example, Heb 1:10-12) as being the same YHWH Who is described this way in scripture, this would still be an extremely odd thing to declare about Christ in the middle of a scriptural paragraph where, to say the least, it is not being affirmed that Christ was not in His own nature God. Still, if it could be established that the Son was not in very nature YHWH God, a verse of this sort would indicate that He never became God either nor ever will in the future.

•• John 10:34ff, referencing Ps 82, means that Jesus is only the same kind of lesser “god” as the ones called “gods” in the Psalm. ••

The short answer to this, is that there is a lot more going on in John 10, including in this scene, than Jesus simply calling himself a son of God. Jesus isn’t only making claims proper to being a lesser son of God (like the rebel judges in Psalm 82, whom Elohim is taking His stand among in the congregation of Elohim. There is certainly no indication there that this is some lesser singular entity with the plural name-title of Elohim.) See the digest for much more discussion on this topic.

•• Could the two natures of Christ not be that of the human Son and that of (only) the divine Father? ••

Metaphysically, that isn’t impossible. Scripturally, though, the evidence is constant that the Son is speaking as the Son, personally, in regard to Himself, in relation to the Father.

If the scriptural evidence was more sporadic, then the identity of the Son personally as also being YHWH (not only the Father personally as such) might not be evident. The evidence in total, though, points toward the Son, Christ, also being YHWH personally. (See the digest for cumulative details.)

•• In John 14:26, the Holy Spirit cannot be another Person than Christ and the Father, because in John 14:6 Jesus is speaking of Himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life. ••

The critic simply mistook which verse he was supposed to be replying about. I think.

•• In John 14:6, Jesus is speaking of Himself as the only Way to Truth and Life. It is an assumptive addition to what is said in these verses to make them out to mean anything else. ••

Ironically, the assumptive addition is being made by this critic, in his alteration of the flat statement (in the Greek of GosJohn anyway) “I am the way and the truth and the life” into prepositional phrases for the latter two terms. The text here does not read that Jesus declared Himself to be the way to truth and life.

The alteration is interesting because, of course, it is God alone Who should be the way and the truth and the life. No not-God person should be declaring that about himself. This critic’s alteration keeps Jesus from making that claim. Which in a backhanded sort of way shows what the strength of the actual claim would be, if admitted into the total evidence.

I’m willing to charitably grant that creative reinterpretation of the text might be the best option, in principle (though that would have to be massively strongly established elsewhere). But then, so much for this critic’s complaint about assumptive additions making the text out to mean anything else.

•• In John 14:26, the Helper, the Holy Spirit, cannot be a different person than the Father or the Son, because the word “person” does not even appear in that verse, including in regard to the Father and the Son. ••

The logic of this rebuttal needs no further comment. Ditto for the same criticism being applied to John 15:26 and 16:7. (Though perhaps this kind of rationale is what stands behind this critic’s occasional attempts to have “the Son of God” mean “the Father” and not Jesus personally?)

•• The Spirit that proceeds from YHWH in John 15:6 is YHWH. Therefore the Spirit cannot be a different person from either the Father or the Son. ••

Obviously, no orthodox trinitarian is denying that the Spirit is YHWH; despite the fact that the Spirit is not named as YHWH in this verse. (Though the critic seems to think this is happening.) Neither is the Comforter, i.e. the Spirit of truth, being named as the Father, which might have been what the critic meant instead, but which still isn’t happening in this verse.

{Note: I’m decapping the divine pronoun references to Jesus in the following paragraph, which is fairly complex; I don’t want to use a mere appearance as implicit weight in my favor here.}

What is happening in this verse is that Jesus (one person) is saying that he will send the Spirit (not personally Jesus himself, as even this critic is acknowledging) from the Father. Are the Spirit/Comforter and the Father the same person? If so, then it is very peculiar that the Greek designates the Spirit with His (or its) own pronoun: “which is going out beside/from the Father”. This kind of usage tends to indicate that the Spirit and the Father are somehow distinct. But the “para” usage, in monothesism, would tend to indicate that the Spirit is YHWH, too. (This critic certainly acknowledges that the Spirit is YHWH, very emphatically.)

Perhaps the Spirit isn’t personal? The pronoun referents here are neutral, admittedly (back at 14:26, too)–which serves, incidentally, to distinguish the Spirit from the Father again! But this same Spirit is spoken of in personal terms, with personal pronouns, and behaves in personal ways elsewhere. (The digest summarizes a lot of data on this.)

The upshot, though, linguistically, is that the Spirit of John 15:6 (and John 14:26) is not the Father, and not the Son.

•• The “comforter” at John 16:7 is none other than YHWH. ••

Obviously, trinitarians don’t disagree with that.

•• The “comforter” at John 16:7 is the Father because Christ is speaking as the Father here, i.e. as YHWH, the Son of God. ••

Aside from the incoherence of trying to make “the Son of God” out to be same person as “the Father”, there is certainly no indication in this verse or elsewhere that a different person than Jesus is speaking through Jesus. That’s an inference read into the text as a way of trying to explain how Jesus could be sending the Spirit if the Spirit is supposed to be the same person as the Father.

The problem with all this is that the pronoun trail from verses 5-10 doesn’t fit this notion at all.

  1. “But now I am going to Him Who sent Me, and none of you are asking Me, ‘Where are You going?’” – Is the Father stating that He is going away from the apostles to the One Who sent Him!? No, duh, Jesus is stating this in relation to the Father. Two persons so far.

  2. “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.” – still Jesus speaking, by all grammatic and logical appearances.

7a. “But I tell you the truth: it is expedient for you that I may be going [or coming] away.” – Who is going away? It was Jesus a moment ago. No indication that some other person is going away.

7b. “For if I do not go away, the consoler will not be coming to you.” – No indication yet that some other person than Jesus is going away. The consoler coming to the disciples, by contrast, must not be the same person as the one who is going away.

7c. “But if I go, I will send him to you.” – so, wait, all of a sudden the speaker switches over unannounced to the person of the Father?!?

Even if that was true, the comforter is being personally distinguished (with personal pronouns this time) from the one who is going! The person being sent is not the one who is speaking, be that the Father or the Son or whatever.

The sudden switch to the person of the Father as an expedient to keep the one being sent from being some other person than the Father, fails anyway as of 15:26; since there the Comforter is being sent from the Father by the Speaker to bear witness of the Speaker. It would pointless of the Father to be speaking of Himself in such a roundabout way: “when I personally come, Whom I will send to you from Me, that is the Spirit of truth which proceeds from Me, I will bear witness of Me.”

And the sudden switch to the person of the Father as the speaker in 7c fails again afterward, since this comforter (with personal pronouns in reference now) convicts the world of various things concerning the speaker (v.9) because the Speaker (v.10) is going to the Father. (This distinction keeps going out through verse 15.)

This comforting spirit is, consequently, not the Father; and apparently not Jesus (the Son), either.

•• Christ named himself son of Man and son of God, therefore was not two different persons. ••

Obviously trinitarians don’t disagree with that. (Or maybe one small trinitarian group, historically, during the Christological controversies after the 3rd century; but not the “orthodox” party.) But when this same critic tries to make the “son of God” “portion” be the same person as the Father, then, well–orthodox trinitarians would answer by saying just what this critic says above.

•• Jesus never says “The Father is greater than I with regard to my humanity”. He makes no qualification whatever. He simply says, “The Father is greater than I.” ••

He says a number of other things, too, however (as do the canonical authors), which involve sharing a Shema unity with the Father as the ultimate God. The “orthodox” party who came up with the “Athanasius Creed” are trying to keep both sets of scriptural data: that Jesus is fully human (and thus less than the Father in that sense) and also fully God (and so of the same nature as the Father, thus “equal to” the Father in that sense).

•• In Phil 2:6 St. Paul affirms that although Jesus was in the form of God He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. This means that He wasn’t already equal with God, or there would have been no queston of Him grasping after such equality. ••

Actually, the Greek of the Phil 2 hymn grammatically stresses that because He was already and continuing in {morphe_} as God (the concept of a form that properly expresses the essence, in Greek of that time), He did not consider equality with God a thing to be seized/grasped/achieved (depending on how that verb is translated, any of which are appropriate enough), but made himself human, pouring himself out. The reason there was no question of Him grasping after such equality, was because He already had it. Had He not been already (and continuing to be) essentially God, there might have been some question of Him attaining to deity; but that would have been answered sufficiently by stressing that he didn’t grasp after it (whether he was awarded it or not). There would have been no need to answer by stressing that He was already essentially God.

•• In Phil 2, St. Paul states that Jesus poured Himself out. This means He gave up the divine attributes He already had and so couldn’t be God anymore; thus had only one nature, human. ••

Whatever “poured himself out” means, the Greek verb of being which is connected to {morphe_} means that Jesus was not only already God but continued being God even during the kenotic “pouring out” of the Incarnation. Where, not-incidentally, He not only had the {schemeti} or outward appearance of a man but also the {morphe_} of a man.

So, two {morphe_} natures: one that He already and continued to have, and one that He took upon Himself during the kenosis. The term “trinity” may not be found in the NT, but the two-natures doctrine of Christ is being directly spoken about right here.

•• He relied on His Father for everything. All of the miracles were accomplished by the Father THROUGH Him. This means that Christ had no divine nature but only a human nature. ••

Trinitarian theologians (those who are being careful enough anyway) also accept that Christ relied on His Father for everything and that all the miracles were accomplished by the Father through Him.

However, even non-trinitarians (those who accept the personal pre-existence of the Son with the Father anyway) typically agree with strict trinitarians that the Son’s complete reliance on the Father Who works through the Son, was true about the Son from before the incarnation as well. Trinitarians don’t believe that the Son was independently active apart from the Father with His own intrinsic divine power and nature. That would be polytheism or cosmological bi-theism (depending on how ontologically high up the two deities were supposed to be.)

That being said, trinitarians (and some other Christian groups) also notice that in the scriptures the Son personally works the miracles–up to and including His own resurrection! It isn’t only the Father working through the Son; although the Son couldn’t (and wouldn’t try to) work them without the Father. The Son’s divine nature continues on during the Incarnation.