Trinitarian Versus Unitarian Debate at "Parchment and Pen"


The Great Trinity Debate at “Parchment and Pen: A Theology Blog”

David Burke Versus Rob Bowman

Check out the two introductory posts:

The OT and the Trinity

I’m fond of that website, but haven’t checked in recently; thanks for the links!


From the trinitarian side:

That’s their best argument. :wink:


I’m not sure if you’re trying to be facetious, FB; but people who actually read Rob’s opening post should be able to understand that he isn’t making any positive argument for ortho-trin at all yet. His first post is only addressing some common spurious critiques of ortho-trin, and his appeal to God’s incomprehensibility is basically pointing out that all theists, unitarians included, hold to doctrines of God that are paradoxically categorical.

Whether he eventually deploys incomprehensibility to get out of a logical critique of contradiction or impossibility, still remains to be seen.

(Admittedly, I’m more sympathetic than he seems to be, to the importance of prior metaphysical constraint; he does look to be setting up an argument along the lines of ‘whether it makes sense or not to interpret it this way, this is what the scripture says and that is what it makes the most sense to interpret scriptural testimony as meaning.’)


And here I am starting down the path of thinking that neither Trin or Uni is correct.

By the way, when you get a chance to critique that one paper, Jason…


Maybe a little but in the end it seems it does come down to this. Personally - I don’t think either view has much bearing on understanding God. I’m harder on the trinitarian view though because they are the ones who generally maintain that one cannot be ‘saved’ unless you follow their long winding trail of incomprehensible breadcrumbs.

If the trinitarian stance is true Jesus should have NEVER been called the “Son of God” but only “God the Son”. Yet He is NEVER called “God the Son” (yet I’m pretty sure a trinitarian might say He was anyway) and that’s basically how this circle goes around and around and around.


That would only be true if the Father isn’t also God in trinitarian theology; which, duh. :wink:

But no, the other phrase (God the Son) is never used in scripture so far as I know, whereas Son of God is–though rarely. There seems to have been a reason why it was rarely used, too: it’s the sort of title that would have been, especially along with Jesus’ other claims, easily understood to mean… what? Example John 10:33, where the title “Son of God” isn’t even being used, but the same implications are being deployed.

Now, it might be argued that, in this example, Jesus’ enemies are creatively misconstruing him by putting together his claims, including that God is his Father, in a false fashion. (And there are quite a few claims being made here in this scene, not even counting other scenes in GosJohn, not even counting other scenes in the Synoptics, not to even mention Acts, the Epistles and RevJohn afterward…) To which charge, by the way, Jesus doesn’t answer by correcting them as to the ludicrousness of their charge, but rather by quoting a Psalm (82) where Elohim Who possesses all nations and judges the earth arises to take His stand in the congregation of Elohim where He judges in the midst of unjust elohim who do no know or understand and walk about in darkness; of which unjust elohim, the Psalmist (and/or possibly Elohim Himself) declares “I on my part said you are elohim, and all of you are sons of the Most High, nevertheless you shall die like men and fall like any one of the princes.”

When Jesus quotes the first part of verse 6 to them, he (or He!) is treating them with a standard rabbinic rebuke form, where they are expected to pick up the implications and especially to finish out the statement: he expects them to recognize that he is claiming they are putting themselves in the place of the unjust elohim against whom the one and only Most High Elohim is taking His stand against them in the midst of His own congregation–while still distinguishing himself personally compared to the Father.

So in a rabbinically witty roundabout way, Jesus is not answering “Of course I am not making myself out to be God Most High, I am only a creature like you nothing more.” He is answering, “Yep, I’m doing exactly that, you got it right, and you of all people should have been expecting this to happen but instead you’re rejecting Me just like the Psalm prophecied the lesser sons of the Most High would judge unfairly against the Most High Who judges them when He comes to take His stand among them.” He’s saying this in a way that still keeps the distinction of persons, Father and Son, but he’s still saying he’s really He the Most High.

It’s things like this, plus all the other claims Jesus makes about Himself (and which are made about Him by NT authors), for which Christians later call Him not only Son of God but also God the Son, even though “God the Son” doesn’t show up as a phrase in the NT.

But leaving aside that particular bit of exegesis, it’s still true that in the Gospel narratives, claiming to be the Son of God was a much riskier thing than to be claiming to be the Son of Man. At the very least, the narrative evidence is that claiming to be himself “Son of God” would be too easily misconstrued as meaning that Jesus was making himself out to be God. It’s one thing for some (over?)-eager disciples to call him “Son of God” (Matt 14:33, 16:16; John 1:49), or for demons to be trying to declare this (which tends to get them quickly muzzled by Jesus, Matt 8:29; Mark 3:11, 5:7; Luke 4:41, 8:28), or for the king of demons to tempt him to prove it (Matt 4:3, 6; Luke 4:3, 9), or for a pagan soldier to say something along this line in admiration (Matt 27:54; Mark 15:39). But when Jesus himself claims this about himself, or agrees that he is, he (or He) tends to get into major trouble with the religious experts (Matt 26:63; 27:40, 43; Mark 14:61; Luke 22:70; John 19:7).

And I don’t think it takes a whole lot of really close reading to figure out why the religious experts think this amounts to reprehensible blasphemy–they’re probably worried that the rabble who know not the Torah and are accursed, will start treating Jesus as being the Memra of God (from the rabbis’ own Aramaic targums at the time) Who was not only with God but actually was God, by Whom all things have come into existence and apart from Whom nothing has come into existence, in Whom exists and came into being the Life that is the Light of men, through Whom grace and truth (or joy and reality) came, the only-begotten God in the heart of the Father Who unfolds the Father that we may see the unseeable God and gaze upon His glory (the Glory as of an only-begotten from the Father full of joy and reality).

Which, considering that Jesus had also answered his rabbinic accusers (seeking his death because in calling God his own father he was thus making himself equal with God) that just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself and thus to give life to whomever He wishes, so that the dead in the tombs who hear the voice of the Son of God shall live, just as the Son has authority to execute judgment because he is the Son of Man (John 5:18-29, definitely reffing Daniel there), it must have seemed to the rabbis and chief priests like a very real risk Jesus’ followers would come to think of him that way. (Though whether we ever did or not, who can say? :mrgreen: )

Anyway, my point is that even though the phrase “God the Son”, per se, is never (so far as I know) used in scripture, the scriptures themselves testify that for Jesus to call himself the Son of God could (at the very least) easily be construed (especially in combination with other things he, or He, was saying) as being tantamount to claiming to be God the Son: equal to God, in a Shema unity with God the Father, even though personally distinct in comparison to the Father.


I forgot to mention: I don’t mind if you’re hard on the trinitarian view because it’s difficult, but there’s no point being hard on it due to category errors made by trinitarians fusing ortho-trin doctrine with technical gnosticism (especially in order to protect their position culturally). Slam gnosticism itself, by all means (hopefully when unitarians do it, too, not only trinitarians :wink: ); and go after the ortho-trin rationales, too, as you see fit to do so; and spike the category error of connecting gnosticism to ortho-trin doctrine all day long. But don’t agree to fuse the two, too! That only propagates the error.

More to the point, I absolutely don’t hold to that notion of salvation by doctrinal passcard profession, nor do the orthodox trinitarians I admire the most; so there’s even less point dismissing what I’m arguing for on that ground.

(Which I mean to be reassuring. :slight_smile: )

Mel, I haven’t forgotten! I’ve just been out sick, catching up on ‘work’ work (due to having been out sick), and doing about a hundred pages of contribution for Easter season over at the Cadre Journal. (Mostly having to do with an obscure back-door historical inference into historical Jesus studies–which a unitarian I think could easily appreciate, too :smiley:–plus an ortho-trin sermon with hints of universalism on Easter evening.)

Also, I’ve been prepping for Series 200 of the Bite-Sized Metaphysics series, although just yesterday I got to the hardest part (having to re-compose the most important chapter of that Section) and I don’t know how long that will take to complete. Could be a while.

Thanks for the reminder, though! I think about it every couple of days, trying to figure out when I can work on it! :smiley:


Understood! (Which is why I worded it the way I did). 'twas just a gentle nudge; I know you’re busy…


I think agency answers all of your points. I don’t even dispute that Jesus (for all practical purposes) is God Himself in a human body but I do dispute the three separate eternal persons angle. Probably one of the strongest trinity arguments (in my view) would be Jn. 17:5 “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began”. The problem is I don’t see the Father or the Holy Spirit as external to man as most do. Most picture the Holy Spirit coming down from the sky somewhere and impregnating Mary. I know most modern Christians would understand that the Spirit came from another dimension as opposed to somewhere physically far away - but still most don’t seem to connect where the Spirit always lived since the beginning of Creation.

Specifically, I believe that Jesus is speaking in proxy for all mankind in that verse speaking of the fellowship of Adam the Son of God before he became subject to the world (kosmos/order) of darkness (AKA "the fall). In the same way Jesus cried in proxy for all human kind (and all creation) saying “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

AISI in both of these cases Christian dogma misses the boat completely. In the first case they see another person (God the Son) talking about His eternal pre-existence (leading to such bizarre phrases as “eternally begotten”) and in the second place it makes up this bizarre story about God gasping and looking away from Jesus as the sins of mankind were placed upon him (as if God was ever squeamish about getting right down in the dirt with us :unamused:).

My views are so unorthodox that I can’t really debate them in a trinity vs. unitarian discussion per se as they don’t coincide much with either view. Maybe someone will read and get something out of it though.

Your comment:

is brilliant but it still seems to miss the agency factor which eliminates the need for three distinct eternal persons.


Byron, Why don’t you post a sum of your panentheism in the “General Theology” category? Here’s an article about panentheism in the The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy while you might have a unique twist to it and can dialog about it.


That’s great Jason. Most of my spiritual instincts are naturally anti-orthodoxy and what especially set me off with this site was this:

This kind of thinking is what led (in more barbaric times) to the horrible fates of many unitarians at the hands of trinitarian orthodoxy throughout history. Michael Servitus is one case which sticks in my mind particularly. The story is truly sickening and (honestly) is justified if (as James believes) adhering to the idea that Jesus is the ‘Son of God’ and not ‘God the Son’ damns you to hell. I appreciate it though because statements like this affirm my stance and help me to jettison other remnants of creedal insanity as far away from me as possible.


Thanks James (for the link and the idea). I had never heard the term or studied any writings on Panentheism until a couple of years ago and realized the term did describe what was made clear to me through bible study (I’ve never read much outside of the bible until the last couple of years).


I’m deeply disappointed that you would associate a twenty-first century theological dialog in the context of civility with horrific state-church politics of the past. And I’m unsure of what you mean by “damns you to hell” in the context of my theology.


I am not saying that discussing these very interesting subjects online is the equivalent, I’m just saying the way of thinking is the same.

In the statement above you seem to be claiming that if one doesn’t see Jesus as more than what is **clearly **stated in scripture: God’s only begotten Son sent to save the world - then there is no salvation for them. Did I misread it?

You are obviously a very nice person and would never harm anyone - but AISI it is the same line of thinking that (in a different era)drove people to take whatever means necessary to stamp out something deemed to be heresy to protect not only the heretic’s soul from condemnation but also all who might hear him.

Since we don’t live in a theocratic state then all people can do is argue it out, thank God!

Sorry, if I’m overstating the matter - I just identify a lot with the heretics who have been demonized and persecuted for millenia. *OBVIOUSLY * you guys here are kind folks and I’m not linking your character in anyway with past atrocities. :slight_smile: