Monday, June 30, 2008

Cross examination of the debate "what does the Bible mean when it calls Jesus 'G/god'?": questions for Dave (the non-Trinitarian position)

This section is the cross-examination where Mike (the Trinitarian position) has the opportunity of asking Dave (the non-Trinitarian position) questions. The questioner also has an opportunity to give a 200 word rebuttal at the end of each answer.

1. If all of creation can bow before a creature, praising (or as I would argue, "worshiping," as done in Hebrews 1:6 by all angels) him with honor, glory, blessing and dominion forever and ever (Rev. 5:12-13); then how can we recognize idolatry?

Idolatry is identifiable by answering a simple question: Is that which is given based upon God's will or not? Your question cited Hebrews 1:6 where this is most pronounced with not an observation but a command. The angels are commanded to proskunew Jesus.

The Bible defines more than once that what Jesus is given is based upon the Father's will. So in John 5:22-23 when Jesus relates how he will be honored as the Father is, he does so with a Greek purpose clause. Jehovah has given Jesus judgment "so that" meaning, 'for the purpose of,' being honored just as him. Similarly in Philippians 2:5-11 Jesus is exalted because of his obedience and faithfulness as God's son and this is done "so that" or 'for the purpose of' having every knee bow to him.

When one receives something based upon God's will expressed through either action or words it is not idolatry. All other cases would be.

Rebuttal May I suggest a better definition for idolatry? "That which is given to someone or something that is due to God alone." It is important to note a few things that my opponent is suggesting here:

1. That we should honor a creature just as we honor God (John 5:23).
2. That worship is not to be given to God alone.
3. It is God’s will that we should involve ourselves with creature worship (though limited to Christ, who is still a creature according to my opponent).

It is not my intention to misrepresent my opponent with this, but to take His points to their logical conclusion. And it is my position that these points are in complete opposition to the Biblical worldview, especially in light of the following passages:

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”’ (Matthew 4:10)

To suggest that these words are limited to a particular period of time is to ignore the reason for which God gives such a command; namely, that YHWH is a jealous God who cannot and will not share His glory with another.

2. You stated in your rebuttal that because Jesus didn’t specifically include Himself into the category of “the only true God” that He doesn’t fit into this category. Of course, you were quick to point out that because Jesus doesn’t fall into this category, that this doesn’t necessarily make Him false. It seems that your emphasis is more on the word “only” rather than “true” (thus making all other gods ontologically “false,” with which you seemingly disagree), thus placing everything outside of this category except YHWH Himself. If “only true God” places Christ outside of this category, does not “only Master and Lord” (Jude 4) place YHWH outside of this category according to your reasoning since we don't see YHWH specifically described as "only Master and Lord"?

Response: Jesus not only failed to identify himself as “the only true God,” so did everyone else in scripture. He did identify the Father as this one and in fact distinguished himself from the category by including another in it while identifying himself as one only “sent forth” by him. Further, while many Trinitarians limit Jesus’ words to his humanity, this is insufficient because he spoke in this context as one who existed “before the world was” (John 17:5). Had the New Testament authors understood Jesus’ to be either the “true God” or the “one God” I believe they would have so identified him.

John 17:3 and Jude 4 are substantially different with the inclusion of type in the former. So Jesus defined the Father as “the only true God” while Jude’s statement lacked a specific qualification. This is noteworthy considering the men recognized as “masters” over certain other Christians (1Ti. 6:1). Thus the way Jesus is the “master” of a Christian is different than how these men where “masters” over their Christian servants. One could then suggest that God be identified both as “Master” and “Lord” in some way distinct from Jesus (similarly, Jehovah is the “one Father” of the Jews while also recognizing Abraham as their father – John 8:39, 41).

Jesus is properly termed our “only Master and Lord” to the exclusion of the Father for the text says he is! It is the Trinitarian position that generally rejects this identification, including the Father and the Holy Spirit in this category. These words can be understood in light of Jesus’ own words in John 17. According to him we “were” the Father’s and yet he gave us to Jesus (John 17:6). As our God we obviously still belong to Jehovah, but in some sense he gave us up to Christ for him to be our “only Master and Lord.” Thus it is to Christ we are directly accountable as the one who mediates between us and God (1Ti. 2:5).

Rebuttal: This is an interesting admission by my opponent, for he is asserting that the focus is on the word “true,” hence, only the Father is the true God. Through this, he introduces a category of “type.” Thus, the Father is the only “type” in the category of “true,” rendering all others as false or gods of a different type?

Let’s apply this line reasoning to another text. In John 1:9, Jesus is identified as the “true light.” Are we to exclude the Father from the type of “true light?” Certainly so (according to Dave’s reasoning), for nowhere is the Father described as “the true light,” but merely “my light” (Psalm 27:1) Therefore, if my opponent assumes that Jesus is not YHWH, it must follow that YHWH is not the true light but a reflection or representation of the true one. And using his reasoning, Jesus as the “one true light” is the one reality and source from which others can only reflect or represent, but never possess. I submit that the way to resolve this problem is to affirm that Jesus is YHWH, since what is true of YHWH is true of Jesus.

3. In my opening statement, I suggested three categories of “gods.” It seems that you are focusing primarily on identification when discussing this topic. I can assure you that when it comes to identification, I agree with your position. Judges, angels, and even men can be called “god” as long as we are careful to qualify. As I also mentioned in my opening statement, my primary focus is the ontological category of true/false gods and not the figurative category in which practically anything can be “god” with qualification. Assuming you agree that there is a unique ontological distinction between YHWH and everything else, how do you explain the ontological distinction between YHWH as “Almighty God” and Christ as “God” or “a god?” Is deity (as I define as “that which makes God God") not a unique attribute to the Creator alone? Is it not the case that the Biblical authors are trying to communicate to us that only YHWH could be ontologically described as “God” whereas everything else would be deemed “ontologically false” as compared to God Himself?

Response: That you feel we must be “careful to qualify” the sense various ones are termed gods strikes me as theologically motivated as the Bible and other early Jewish writers did not feel the need to do as much. Obviously each identified as a god was one in his own sense, but it was not necessary for early writers to qualify it with each occurrence. Further, you are in error to say “practically anything can be 'god' with qualification,” for such is entirely untrue unless one includes false gods, which I don't believe you are doing. If so then I apologize for the confusion. The appellation “god” is used in a very limited sense as I have argued, either of those having been given divine authority or who possess a nature higher than humans.

I would agree that Jehovah uniquely stands on his own. He is one of a kind, the only being uncreated and eternal from which all others derive their existence. Your definition of deity, however, is lacking, because it provides identification, telling what makes God who he is not what he is. This is because “God” has taken the semantic force of a proper name, meaning that through use when unqualified “God” has become no different than “Jehovah.”

It is important that we not redefine terms to form our own theological language, so we work with what words actually mean. To account for various early uses of “deity” the word is better defined as “that which makes a god a god.” With this broader definition I find no issue identifying angels as deities, though they are not worthy of worship and not deity/gods of themselves. This identification is limited to their possession of a nature higher than mans. If we restrict the definition to characteristics unique to Jehovah then they would be excluded.

The Bible does not speak of all other than Jehovah as “ontologically false” gods. You have apparently imported this idea entirely on your own out of theological necessity. There is the true God, there are those gods who are false, but then there are those as are 'types of the true,' to borrow from Origen, meaning that they are neither the true God nor false gods, but they are modeled after the prototype who stands alone as the true God.

RebuttalAllow me to clarify what I meant by “practically anything can be called ‘god’ with qualification.” Yes, this primarily is in reference to false gods. So the apology is mine if there was confusion.

My opponent suggests that my definition of “deity” is lacking. Interestingly, Thayer has no problem in defining theotes (as used in Colossians 2:9) as “deity, the state of being God.” Instead, my opponent asserts that a better definition is “that which makes a god a god.” I am unaware of a lexicon or dictionary that would define theotes in such a way, so the burden of proof is on him to substantiate his claim.

Assuming my definition is correct (and I believe it is), the fatal flaw comes when my opponent fails to acknowledge the infinite, unbridgeable gap between the deity and the creature. This is not only affirming who God is but what He is as well, for I submit that no creature, no matter how highly exalted, could ever be identified as deity. The reason being, deity is a distinction unique to the Creator alone that describes not only who He is, but also what He is (that which makes God God).

4. John 20:28, Thomas refers to Jesus as literally, “The Lord of Me and the God of me.” If someone came up to you and asked, “Dave, who is your Lord and God?” how would you respond in light of John 20:28 and texts such as Psalm 16:2, "I said to YHWH, 'You are my Lord.'" and 1 Kings 3:7 where Solomon says, "Now, YHWH my God, You have made Your servant king..." Can Psalm 16:2 and 1 Kings 3:7 not stand alone as establishing the full deity of YHWH in the same way that John 20:28 can in respect to Jesus?

Response: I embrace identifying Jesus as “my Lord and my God,” but I would not identify Jesus as God. As I have noted in my previous response, God through use when lacking qualifiers (such as an adjectival modifier or an English possessive pronoun) has become semantically equivalent to Jehovah.

I do not agree that the words “My Lord” or “My God” can “stand alone as establishing the full deity” of an individual without a context. For example, the apostle John did not object to addressing one of the 24 elders with the words, “My Lord” (kurie mou, the same words used of God and Christ. - Rev. 7:14), yet he was not attempting to establish deity. Further, David prophetically spoke of Jesus long before Thomas with the same words “my Lord,” (Psalm 109:1 LXX) while distinguishing him from Jehovah.

The apostle John did not offer any commentary on Thomas' words to define the intended meaning. He did, however, write his Gospel in a way that would present qualification for his readers much as the psalmist did in Psalm 45 as I have noted Murray Harris observing. Only several verses prior did Jesus speak of his own God (John 20:17), giving John's readers the notion of Jesus as one other than and less than God, just as would be the case if any other uttered his expression. Only if one assumes the Trinity or a similar doctrine is this qualification not apparent. Recognizing Jesus as one who has his own God, John's readers would come to Thomas' words in verse 28, understanding Jesus' position as one who is Thomas' god (or, God. The use of a capital is insignificant as only a matter of personal preference. Thomas' words would agree with the notion of Jesus being 'a god over Thomas' and so 'his god.') relative to the Almighty as Jesus' God.

RebuttalJohn 20:28 provides us with a contextual justification as to which “Lord” we are referring to (as did Psalm 16:2). And this is why these texts can “stand alone” in identifying which “Lord” and “God” they are referring to; because the verses themselves specifically tell us. And just because the divine name is not used in the New Testament, is that a reason to fail to identify YHWH when only the designation “Lord” or “God” is used?

Mark 12:29 is of interest because it identifies God without the use of the Tetragrammaton, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord.” Of course, there would be no doubt to the mind of any Jew that this is a quote from Deuteronomy 6:4. But why would this be so obvious to a Jew? Because “our Lord” and “our God” are sufficient in identifying which God is in reference (for it would be unthinkable for any Jew to refer to anyone but YHWH as “our God”). Similarly, Psalm 35:23 identifies YHWH as “My God and my Lord.” Would there be any question in the mind of a first century Jew as to who is being referenced, even if we didn’t have YHWH in the surrounding verses as qualifiers?

5. With regards to Colossians 2:9, you stated that “Jesus’ deity is not possessed from eternal existence as Almighty God but the Father chose to give it to him.” This is in the context in which you stated that Colossians 1:19 implies a “choosing” or “willing” for Christ to possess this deity; to which, I agree. But what you failed to mention is that 1:19 does not address the pre-incarnate state, thus making your statement of "Jesus deity is not possessed eternally" a moot point. Robert Morey argues, “The verb katoikei ‘dwells’ is in the present tense and indicates that Christ was, is, and always shall be the embodiment of Deity….[otherwise] he would have written the verb in the aorist tense. But the present tense clearly indicates that absolute deity resides bodily in Christ permanently.” (Dr. Robert Morey, Trinity-Evidence and Issues [Grand Rapids, MI; World Publishing Inc., 1996], pp. 359-360) If the Trinitarian incarnation is true (as well as the Trinitarian interpretation of Philippians 2:5-11), then what else would you expect than for Christ's eternally possessed deity to be given to Him (as a man) so that He would be both fully God and fully man for the rest of eternity? Furthermore, if “deity” means “that which makes God God” then how could anyone other than YHWH possess this attribute?

Response: I cannot help but observe a distortion of what Trinitarianism actually teaches. The doctrine of the hypostatic union finds Christ to have always existed as God, never ceasing to be such and having only added humanity to himself while laying aside his divine prerogatives. The Athanasian Creed explains: “Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God.”

Similarly Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology: “That it is so is the plain doctrine of Scripture, for the Son of God, a divine person, assumed a perfect human nature, and, nevertheless, remains one person.” (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 [Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, org. pub. 1872], 390. Emphasis added.)

So too the Moody Handbook of Theology: “When Christ came, a Person came, not just a nature; He took on an additional nature, a human nature—He did not simply dwell in a human person.” (P. P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology [Chicago: Moody Press,1989], 227. Emphasis added.)

According to this doctrine Jesus never lacked deity, making Colossians 1:19/2:9 incompatible by necessitating that he did regardless of whether or not Colossians 1:19 addressed his preincarnate state. To say that his 'eternally possessed deity was given to Him as a man' is an oxymoron for either he eternally possessed it or gave it up, became a man and had it given back to him or never possessed it and had it newly given to him.

Understanding Colossians 2:9 by 1:19 proves then extremely difficult for Trinitarianism. It is hard to imagine that Paul had a different “fullness” in mind come 2:9, but as Peake confesses, what is taught from this connection is “an Arian view,” or more simply, a non-Trinitarian view. (A.S. Peake, “The Epistle to the Colossians,” The Expositor's Greek Testament, ed. by, W. Robertson Nicoll, vol. 3, Reprint from the edition originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pubishing Company, [Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2002], 508.)

I am admittedly uncertain of your purpose in citing Morey. This may only be due to a lack of his words' context. If by saying that Christ “was... the embodiment of Deity” Morey means that it was eternally possessed, he is either displaying great creativity in his interpretation or woeful ignorance. In fact katoikei is used of both men (Rev. 2:13) and wicked spirits (Mat. 12:45). This does nothing to indicate eternal possession. If his intention was only to say that Christ possessed this prior to when Paul wrote his words, when he wrote them and after he wrote them, I do not object but fail to see the relevance.

RebuttalThere is no discrepancy between my position and the hypostatic union. My entire point was to stress that neither Colossians 2:9 or 1:19 address the nature of the Son prior to the incarnation. In order for the incarnation to be possible, God the Son had to enter into human flesh. Therefore, it could be viewed from two different angles.

1. The divine nature had to be “given” a human nature.
2. The human nature had to be “given” a divine nature.

Either way, the divine nature has always remained divine. Therefore, my statement that his “eternally possessed deity was given to Him as a man” remains correct in that Christ never “gave up” His full deity. Instead, He voluntarily gave up some of His divine privileges by “taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”

But I suggest a much bigger problem for my opponent than my apparent lack of being able to explain something as infinitely magnificent as the incarnation. That being; theotes, “the state of being God,” as applied to Christ. As incompatible an idea that Colossians 1:19 might seem for a Trinitarian (according to my opponent), he has to admit to the fact that the “state of being God” dwelt bodily in Christ.

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