The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The OT and the Trinity


What does a humility competition look like? ‘I’m more humble than you.’ That Ain’t humility - but the opposite - it’s pride.

I was born again when I was baptized, I was a month old. But the ‘born againers’ say I wasn’t born again when I was baptized. To disagree with a born againer is proof that one is not born again and ‘spiritual’.

Born Againers usually say that ‘traditional christians’ (Lutherans, Catholics, Orthodox, etc) are ipso facto inferior christians. But that claim is pure arrogance and pride. And, yes, the claim goes in the other direction as well.

Labels are useful - but truth is truth - I’m not afraid that Aaron’s error is going to rub out my beliefs - the person who fears that happening is usually a ‘religion by rote’ type.

You have managed, again, to take a thread off course without really engaging in it.



You said:I was born again when I was baptized, I was a month old. But the ‘born againers’ say I wasn’t born again when I was baptized. To disagree with a born againer is proof that one is not born again and ‘spiritual’.

Aaron37: I think were a bit off topic here and would love to discuss this with you. Since I cannot start a new topic…why don’t you start a topic on this subject. Anyway, one is not born again by water baptism, but by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Regeneration comes by faith and not by sprinkling or immersing in water. Water baptism is an outward symbol of an inward work by the Holy Spirit in our spirit.



I thought I should reply to this first, somewhat as an aside, before moving on to Aaron’s remarks (which will take far more time).

As I noted in the digest, even the Tanahk of the Jewish Publication Society translates this verse as meaning that the son to be born shall have the set of names listed; although for a reason I am not aware of they ‘fix’ the problem by rendering the four names as two compound names

Name 1.) “The Mighty Father is planning grace.”
Name 2.) “The Eternal father [is] a peaceable ruler.”

Werner’s translation (which has been criticised for being a little too uncritically literal sometimes) agrees, the name-calling comes first grammatically, then the titles. (He renders them “Advisor of Accomplishments, the Mighty God, the Father Evermore, The Leader of Peace”.

From the NIV superliteral: for child he-is-born to-us son he-is-given to-us and-she-will-be the-government on shoulder-of-him and-he-will-call name-of-him wonder-of one-counseling god-of might father-of everlasting prince-of peace. (The “she” of “she-will-be”, refers to grammatic gender of “government”.)

From Green’s superliteral (which divides the consonants fewer times than the NIV): For-a-child is-born-to-us a-son is-given-to-us and-is the-government on-his-shoulder and-is-called his-name wonderful counselor the-god mighty everlasting-father prince-of-peace.

Green’s and the NIV both show that the name-calling phrase precedes the titles, and the phrase seems grammatically completed with all four titles as object of the verb. I don’t know on what grammatic grounds the translation recommended to Sonia shifts the phrase so that the first three names are the subjects and the fourth is the object of the verb phrase. (Doesn’t mean there aren’t any; the link, unfortunately, doesn’t explain why this is a superior translation.)

It may be of some interest that although the Gospels quote from or allude to Isaiah 9 messianically in various places, they don’t seem to refer to the second half of that verse (with the name-titles).



Well, I’m done with my reply, but not with editing it. (Whew!) I hope to attach it as a doc file early this week, as a comment for the thread, as well as (most likely) providing some summary remarks in the comment itself.

Hopefully Aaron will appreciate a reply that doesn’t amount to ‘just throw away your logic!’ or ‘you’ll learn better when you’re sweeping the floor of my mansion in heaven…’ :unamused:



I’m really looking forward to it, Jason (seriously)! I wanted to engage you more than anyone else on this forum regarding this very important topic, because I really like the way you think. I figured if anyone’s going to set me straight, it’ll be you (not that I want to be convinced that I’m wrong, but I do want to know the truth). :slight_smile:



It’ll be Wednesday at the earliest, I expect, before anything goes up. Huge amount of ‘work’ work, plus I’ll be out of pocket most of Tuesday (or not, depending on snow in the area–but then maybe out of pocket again for snow! :laughing: ) in order to get some skin things worked on (moles removed, etc.)

Also I want to update the digest with more info, which I may work on first (though not necessarily republish first) before putting up the reply. I have a number of corrections, alterations and expansions to make. :smiley:



Good stuff Aaron. Great job presenting the position.



Thanks, Mel. As always, more could have been said, but I thought that would be sufficient to start things off. There’s one verse in particular (Micah 5:2) that I think deserves some attention, but I’ll wait for Jason’s response before I comment on it.



Still catching up on ‘work’ work today at work, after snow problems earlier this week; so posting up the reply looks like it will be delayed longer.



This will be a good conversation, I predict. (Melchizedek goes to get popcorn…)



At this rate it’ll be kinda burnt by the time my side goes back up! :laughing: (With a roof drawing and at least one submittal to get out of here before end of day Friday, I’m doubtful I’ll have the time and energy for revising my notes down to a feasible length before Saturday.)



Well, it was a figure of speech anyway… Should I get any actual popcorn, I’ll wait until I see you’ve responded. :smiley:



I agree Mel, I’m looking foward for this one to kick off. The pre-game show has been great but let the discussion begin. I think Aaron made some interesting points. Unfortunately I’m not anyone to comment on them. I know little of Hebrew.

I would say that the 1+1+1 fails to persuade me that the three persons has to be three gods. Aaron, if one agrees with this formula then would you say there are 3 gods since you don’t believe in a triune God?




Well, I admit that using mathematical formulas to either defend or show the contradictory nature of the doctrine of the Trinity is probably not the best route to take, and I probably could have just left that out of my discussion with Ran. The argument that the doctrine of the Trinity can’t be true because “one God + one God + one God does not equal one God” is certainly not what convinced me that the doctrine is erroneous (besides, I’ve heard it said in response to this kind of argument: “Well, 1 + 1 + 1 may not equal 1, but 1 x 1 x 1 does!” Or, “Three infinities still equals one infinity!”). At the same time, if we use the standard definition of the Trinity, I think we do find there to be an inherent contradiction in the idea that cannot be resolved.

For instance, according to the Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology, “It [the Trinity] signifies that within the one essence of the Godhead we have to distinguish three “persons” who are neither three gods on the one side, not three parts or modes of God on the other, but co-equally and co-eternally God” (emphasis mine). In other words, the Trinity is comprised of three “persons” who are all fully and equally God. But if one replies, “Well that makes three equal Gods,” we are told, “No, that would be a mistake; there are not three Gods. There are three Persons who are all fully God, yet there is only one God.” That, to me is a contradiction. It’s like saying “Here we have three chairs - yet there is only one chair.”

But again, that the doctrine of the Trinity (depending on how it is explained) and of the “double nature” of Christ (i.e., that Jesus is “fully God and fully man”) defies common sense is certainly not the determining reason for why I ended up rejecting it; my decision to embrace a Unitarian understanding of God was made primarily on Biblical grounds.



If something is incomprehensible does that make it incoherent necessarily?



While waiting for me to trim down my notes to something more feasibly presentable–have you checked out my BSM series yet, Aaron? I haven’t posted a new entry in a while (due to admin/mod duty distractions mostly), and I’m not quite up to arguing in favor of theism vs. atheism yet, but it’s a metaphysical rationale that will end up arriving at ortho-trin (or anyway it’s done so now for 10+ years ever since I first put it together. :wink: But I like to revise and update it occasionally as a self-critical exercise, which is one of several reasons why I’ve been posting it up in pieces on this forum for about a year now.)

There’s a link to the series index page for this forum, at the bottom of my signature. The index page (if I recall correctly) also has links to a second-draft editing of Sections One and Four that I posted up several years ago at the Cadre Journal; it’s possible to reconstruct the gist of my argument for binitarianism (arrived at in Section Three, currently unposted anywhere) by reading recaps/past mentions of it in the chapters for Sec4, and then following onward to my arrival at trinitarianism. (I have one significant upgrade to make to that section, though, when-if-ever I get back there again in my current edit; thanks, somewhat inadvertently, to Sergei Bulgakov.)

It’s far from being an argument from scriptural authority; but it ought (in theory anyway :wink: ) to be able to help with the principle logical issues at stake. Of which there are many dozens.



Also, I’ll be polishing up and posting my reply to this thread first, before checking in on the Gehenna thread (which I notice you’re replying to now, probably on the Mark 9:49-50 topic. :slight_smile: )



Off to the visitation (turns out the service will be at some other time, possibly very limited and private–unknown if I’m invited yet.)

But I thought I’d post up the first two parts of my reply.

I am very grateful to have learned new material, which I will be incorporating into a revision of the document. (Although there are also ‘corrections’ which are not really ‘corrections’, on closer examination. But we’ll get to those along the way. :wink: ) The OT section is less lengthy than the NT section, partly because the spread of data (or the disputable data anyway) is just less dense by proportional weight to the length of the OT texts overall, but also partly for a reason I will discuss next as the first part of my reply.

I. The Goal of the OT Section

I’ll have something to say about presuppositional constraints of interpretation in the next part of my reply. But here I want to clarify that my goal for the OT section was not to argue that the OT texts teach a developed trinitarian doctrine–something I have never claimed to be true about the OT. Mainly what I wanted to do was provide an overview of the kinds of claims, concerning God and God’s operations, which would later help explain why NT authors (and Jesus by report) make the kinds of claims they do. Obviously this isn’t something that can be fully illustrated without going on to the NT testimony–where I will be referring back to the OT pretty regularly (sometimes in regard to examples mentioned in my OT section, and sometimes in regard to other OT texts). But this is the other main reason why my report on OT testimony isn’t longer and more detailed than it is. It’s also, by the way, why I don’t talk any more about the concept of representative agency than I do–because I will be discussing the notion far more in-depthly when I get around to Jesus and how He is treated (and treats Himself) in the NT.

(I also hold back from discussing representative agency much in the OT section, because I thought that the relevant problems associated with trying to claim something less than God’s own identity for a particular agent of God, were pretty well illustrated already in the examples as they stood. Which, considering that you often have to appeal back to a metaphysical constraint for interpretation, I’d say I was at least somewhat successful at that goal! :mrgreen: But much more could be said about those issues and problems. And much more will be said, later in my reply. :wink: )

Was I at least trying to establish that the OT teaches doctrines that, when put together, amount to orthodox trinitarianism (minus specific incarnational issues)? Yes, but not necessarily to the exclusion of other possibilities–by which I mean that I wasn’t aiming for an absolute conclusion that couldn’t be greatly improved and clarified by considering the NT texts (and especially how they themselves reference and make use of the OT). If the presentation broadly illustrates how later readers (like in the days of the NT) could be inspired to interpret the data along such-n-such doctrinal lines, studying the scriptures in the hindsight of their experiences of Jesus and His teaching and deeds, then my goal for that part of the paper would be achieved.

It could be replied that, in presenting the material this way, I am at least arranging it (if not reading directly into it) according to how I already believe to be the teaching and even the intentions of the NT authors (and Jesus by report); when I ought to be interpreting the NT by means of the OT instead. Actually, I think I go both ways on that–for example, whenever the NT authors refer back to OT scriptures and apply them to the topic of God and/or Jesus, they couldn’t be being faithful to the OT testimony if they weren’t thinking in terms of OT contexts; consequently, if I want to get a clearer idea of their own meanings, I had better keep track of those OT contexts, too! But at the same time, the question has to be put: do the NT authors not have anything new, or at least newly clarified, to say about the meaning of the OT scriptures?! Unless, on some prior ground (or raw assertion?) we expect that answer to be ‘no’ (and I know of no good reason why we ought to expect ‘no’ beforehand), then it would also be a good idea to watch to see if the NT authors (and Jesus, by report) are trying to expand and/or clarify a ‘proper’ understanding of OT testimony about God and His operations.

This principle doesn’t necessarily mean that any NT author (or even Jesus by report!) is correct to be doing so; a non-Christian Jew might (and in fact almost certainly would) point to such-n-such in the NT and say “But they are innovating some drastically wrong theological idea here!” But then again, if it seems clear enough that Jesus and/or NT authors are teaching some idea that wasn’t clearly believed (or even believed at all yet) by the OT authors, it might be of some use to know if the OT texts could be read to mean that–even if the OT authors themselves did not understand the implications of what they were reporting. (If the NT authors, and/or Jesus, are teaching bodily resurrection for example, this is something that not all the OT authors clearly believed in; but which may have been foreshadowed by various things they did talk about and believe.)

This leads to the question of whether there could be a real and important testimony from the OT, the full (or fuller) meaning of which was not evident to at least the authors (if not the readers) of those texts. It may be that to infer, or more vaguely “to see veiled signs” of, a singular Trinity of divine persons “is to go beyond the words and intent of the sacred writers”. This would not mean such testimony wasn’t there, however. John the Evangelist understands a statement of Caiaphas to be a legitimate prophecy, granted due to the man’s appointment as high priest for that year, but still invites the reader to go beyond the word and intent of Caiaphas. (John 11:49-52) Matthew (or whoever wrote and/or finally compiled GosMatt) goes rather far beyond the evident meanings of Jeremiah in explaining Herod’s slaughter as being a fulfilled prophecy (Matt 2:18; Jer 31:15), even when the reader happens to notice that that portion of Jeremiah ends with a peculiar riddle (not directly mentioned in GosMatt) which could point to the forthcoming virgin birth (31:32b, “For YHWH has created a new thing in the earth: a woman will encompass a man!”) For that matter, Matthew goes far beyond the evident meanings of Isaiah, too, when explaining that the virgin birth of Christ by Mary fulfills the prophecy about “Immanuel” (originally a child born to the virgin wife of the prophet himself, Is 7:1-16; midrashed in Matt 1:23.) Yet most unitarians acknowledge, just like most (nominally all) trinitarians, that the virgin birth of Christ is being testified to in GosMatt and GosLuke.

I don’t mean that this gives anyone an open field for going beyond the evident intention of the OT authors. I am only illustrating that it is not, in principle, impossible that what prophets say and even mean (whether loyal like Isaiah and Jeremiah, or rebel prophets like Caiaphas!), may have larger meanings than they themselves are aware of at the time; nor is it impossible that they themselves may have some distant inkling of them, even if “the secret hushed in eonian times” is manifested and heralded later besides through prophetic scriptures. (Rom 16:25-26)

And, from a wider critical standpoint (including the possibility of a sceptical rejection of OT and/or NT testimony on the relevant topics), it might be discovered that the Judeo-Christian canonical scriptures are talking about something that ought to be rejected as a metaphysical falsehood (or even an outright contradictory impossibility). This leads to the topic of presuppositional constraints in interpretation; and so on to the next topical header of my reply.



II. Presuppositional Contraints to Interpretation

I think it can be fairly said, Aaron, that you are coming to the study and interpretation of the texts with an idea of what must at least be false (if not also what must be true instead), and subsequently applying this as an interpretive impossibility. This is evident in your occasional appeals to metaphysical constraint in the face of various data: such-n-such cannot mean there are two persons of YHWH in operation because that would mean there are two YHWHs, which is impossible; or that there are two centers of consciousness in YHWH which is just as contradictory etc.

Notably, you keep insisting that the testimony would have to be multi-theism instead of (at least) binitarian monotheism, even though you elsewhere acknowledge that AeCHaD (and in fact even alternate forms of YaCHiD, though not YaCHiD itself) can and does commonly mean a corporate singularity. (If I understand correctly, by the way, there are no less than nine OT words which could mean “one”, all but one of which can and do also apply to corporate singularity.) Trinitarians (nominally speaking) don’t have any problem keeping that idea of multiplicity and singularity in mind as an interpretive option, though–so why must you continually forget it when appealing back to the Shema as countervailing testimony to the trinitarian understanding of (what appear to be) multiple YHWH persons? Every time you tried to claim that if each person was YHWH there would have to be two totally distinct YHWHs, I have no problem answering “Or two persons Who are both corporately YHWH.” That’s a more complex idea than two distinct YHWHs, but the idea does take seriously the monotheistic insistence of the OT. And if (hypothetically speaking) that was true about God, He’d be hard pressed to begin revealing that truth to people several thousand years less practiced than we are in analytical metaphysics–I mean in language different than what we find in the OT. (And the NT, too.)

I don’t mean that this is an argument for the correctness of the doctrine; only that the doctrine can be expressed in fashions found in the OT (for whatever reason or reasons).

But in any case, you’re operating with, and applying, a metaphysical constraint about what the data cannot legitimately mean.

Do I think this is necessarily wrong to do in principle? No. We appeal to, and apply, such constraints all the time even when we’re trying to read the meaning out of what texts are saying. If you have a critical metaphysical complaint against even the possibility of ortho-trin being true, then so long as that constraint is in place (for whatever reason) I couldn’t expect you to agree that the scriptures are testifying to ortho-trin; or, if I showed that they absolutely certainly did, then you’d have to reject them (like a Muslim perhaps) for testifying falsely about God! The issue has to be kicked upstairs for debate on principle grounds. Which, not incidentally, is why I personally prefer to do metaphysical apologetics first and then go look around to see if there are scriptures independently attesting to the same thing.

However, that doesn’t mean I treat ortho-trin as being a constraint, too. The matter is rather more complex than that. If the scriptures absolutely testified against ortho-trin (and I mean ortho-trin, not multi-theism!), then I’d be in rather a pickle since they also testify to deeds of God I would be expecting in history (especially from a trinitarian God!) But I’d have to put up with the exegetical facts, regardless. Whereas if they only testified to the existence and actions of God, without really coming down one way or another on more complex matters, I might have no problem at all!–for after all, I do believe in God. If they testified to atheism being true (to give another more extreme example), then I’d have major trouble accepting them as being accurate in regard to topics of that sort, though I might accept their accuracy in some other regards–and maybe enough so as to re-evaluate why I believed God to exist in the first place. But if that re-evaluation stood, then I’d be at an empasse. Nevertheless, I shouldn’t try to force those texts to read what I believe to be true. And the same goes for my interpretation of the actual Judeo-Christian texts. Otherwise I’m not respecting the texts (be they true or false in what they claim) and I’m not allowing the texts an opportunity to challenge me (for better or for worse) in my own beliefs.

Anyway, logically I thought I should mention this before going on to talk about the data and its implications; partly to alert you that you’re setting up a roadblock which no exegesis on my part, no matter how good, might succeed in getting past. Which at least puts a big constraint on any potential results from our discussion. But I also mention this, because you have said that you moved (from trinitarianism?) to unitarian Christianity because of exegetics and not because of metaphysics. That isn’t impossible; but when you go on to play metaphysics as a trump-attempt in an exegetical conversation (and repeatedly so in fact), then it seems to me there’s a disparity in your account of grounds somewhere. :wink:

Next up: actually discussing the data and its implications! :mrgreen:



Hi Jason,

I’m assuming it’s ok for me to go ahead and respond to your posts. If not, I’ll wait before you have everything posted before responding again!

I confess that I do have certain “metaphysical constraints” that make it rationally impossible for me to both accept certain statements as true as well as to reject other statements as false. Perhaps the greatest “metaphysical constraint” I have in regards to Trinitarian doctrine is this (and I’m sure we’ll be discussing this more later): I believe God defined what a “man” is when he created the first man, Adam. So when I read the word “man” in Scripture (or consider what “human nature” means), I don’t think of what the word could mean, perhaps in some alternate universe or dimension; I think of what the word does mean, based on what God created on the sixth day. That’s my working definition of “man” and “human nature,” and as such it places a constraint on what my reason will and will not accept. It is this “constraint” that prevents me from rationally accepting the Trinitarian proposition that Jesus is “both fully God and fully man,” or that “Jesus pre-existed his conception in Mary’s womb.” But it is this very constraint that enables me to rationally understand everything that was prophesied concerning the Messiah in the OT, and everything that was said about Jesus in the NT. So when I read that, for instance, Jesus was born of a woman and consistently referred to as a “man,” that Jesus has a God, that God was with him and indwelling him, that Jesus could do nothing apart from God, that Jesus was “tempted in every respect as we are,” that Jesus was limited in knowledge, that he died (etc.), my reason nods in full agreement, and I accept the testimony as true.

My position (which perhaps I somewhat understated previously) is that, while AeCHad can modify both singular and collective nouns, it never means “corporate singularity.” Even when it modifies collective nouns (such as “cluster” or “flock”) it still denotes “mathematical oneness.” As such, I think it was the most appropriate word that could have been used to express the idea that Yahweh is a uni-personal entity.

Again, perhaps I understated my case somewhat, but my understanding is that AeCHaD in Scripture never means “corporate singularity.” When referring to how many something is - whether it be one grape or one cluster of grapes - AeCHaD always denotes mathematical oneness. Now, with the exceptions of Isaiah 6:8 and Gen 1:26, 3:22 and 11:7, Yahweh refers to himself using singular personal pronouns (“I,” “Me,” “Myself”). Yahweh had thousands of opportunities to refer to himself as a plurality of persons, but he didn’t. Even up until the Shema declaration (again, with the exception of 3 instances in Genesis), Yahweh had used singular personal pronouns when referring to himself. For instance, when Yahweh spoke to Moses from the burning bush, he said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings and I have come down to deliver them…And now behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me…” So, what we have here and throughout the OT is God repeatedly referring to himself as a single person (for if singular personal pronouns do not express the idea of a single person, then I’m at a loss as to what they do mean), and then we have the express declaration of the Shema that “Yahweh is one” (which, as you seem to agree, tells us how many Yahweh is). So just based on how Yahweh refers to himself in the OT, from the start the scale seems to be very much tipped in favour of a Unitarian understanding of God and of what the Shema was meant to convey (i.e., that Yahweh is a single person). So when you say, “Or two persons Who are both corporately YHWH,” I can’t help but read, “Or two persons Who are both corporately one person Who calls Himself YHWH” - which is an incoherent statement to me. And if one Yahweh speaks of another Yahweh as being distinct from himself (and it is understood not as an idiomatic expression, or as an example of representative agency) then I’m seriously not sure how one could read this and conclude that there is only one Yahweh and not two (or potentially three or four or five or six…!).