My opponent’s suggestion in the opening of his response I submit is the foundation of his error. In studying the scriptures it is our obligation to ascertain what they teach, yet he has sought to prove a teaching assumed a priori, namely, “absolute monotheism.” Undoubtedly one can “establish” this teaching in scripture, but doing this does not indicate such was the authors' intent and it is not without contradiction. Indeed, by seeking to “establish” a doctrine rather than to interpret the text almost any teaching can be argued as correct regardless of whether or not it really is.
Instead of taking an a priori position of “absolute monotheism” I propose a new look at the question, are we monotheists or henotheists? It is better to ask what early writers both of the Bible and extra-biblical monotheistic Jewish literature considered monotheism to be. It is that doctrine we should seek, not looking to “establish” anything determined a priori. Larry Hurtado is one to have commented on this issue in his work How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?:
“It is mistaken to assume that we can evaluate ancient Jewish texts and beliefs in terms of whether or how closely they meet our own preconceived idea of ‘pure’ monotheism… If we are to avoid a priori definitions and the imposition of our own theological judgments, we have no choice but to accept as monotheism the religion of those who profess to be monotheists, however much their religion carries and may seem ‘complicated’ with other beings in addition to the one God.” [Larry W. Hurtado, How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? – Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), 113-114.]
Deutero-Isaiah presents a specific attack against idols as I have highlighted, yet my opponent seeks to narrow the meaning above and beyond this when examining my position. Referencing the Babylonian captivity there were undoubtedly certain false gods in view within the text, but the text did not so narrowly define them, instead referring to the creation of idols generally (cf. Isa 40:19-20).
A second example of contextual qualification allows us to better understand how it here applies. A command in Exodus 20:4 forbade the making of carved images of things on the earth and in heaven. Some have understood this to prohibit the creation of any images at all, yet Calvin rightly calls this “foolishly imagined.” The context is addressing “gods” that they should not “bow down and serve” (Ex. 20:3, 5). With a narrow reading of this passage one could rightly “establish” a strict prohibition against the making of statues and forms of any type, yet even Solomon made these things in building of his temple (1Ki. 6:29).
Both Isaiah and Exodus are qualified by their context, yet did this mean that those that preexisted and were not formed into idols by men such as the sun, moon and stars could be recognized as gods? What of men such as emperors who claimed to be gods? While these may not have been formed through the casting of metal or the carving of wood it is the principle provided in these texts that extends to cover all those established by men as gods. In contrast those such as the judges of Israel, angels and even Jesus himself were/are gods in their own respective ways because Jehovah has so made them. They are gods because they have been given divine authority and as possessors of that which is divine they are so termed, or God has created them with an exalted nature so that the appellation is appropriate.
I will also comment on the ongoing misunderstanding of Isaiah 43:10. Not only are these false idol gods in view, but one must inquire of when there was a time “before” Jehovah and when there will ever be a time “after” him. There was not and there will not be, the text placing emphasis on God's eternity. Some ancient religions held to the notion of successive gods, where one group succeeded another and then another [Albert Barnes, Notes on the Old Testament, Book 6, sec. 2, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005. Repr. from the 1847 ed. published by Blackie & Sons, London), 118.]. Jehovah was not among this order and in his eternity there would be no god before or after him.
The interpretation of Psalm 8:5 my opponent has presented ignores both my clear argument contradicting his view and the plain interpretation I have provided. Implicit by his admission of insufficiency in his first argument is the speculative nature of his position. Having offered two contradictory interpretations it would seem that his basis in these is his inability to accept the most straightforward reading and not because of something actually defined in the text. What I have advanced is directly from the text as understood by not only the LXX paraphrase and the author of Hebrews, but also the Targum and the Syriac. I submit that to claim man is only “a little lower” than an infinite Almighty God even as his “image” is the pinnacle of absurdity. God is vastly beyond man in every sense imaginable. Further, the psalmist had spoke to God directly with continual second person references throughout the chapter: “Your name... Your glory... You have ordained... Your heavens... You are mindful... You have made... You made him... Your hands... Your name...” In verse 5 elohim stands apart as a third person reference.
The idea that angels were so properly termed gods is noted in extra-biblical Jewish literature contemporary to the Bible. In the story of Joseph and Aseneth, a work likely dated between the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D., an angel who is “the chief of the house of the Lord,” is identified as “a god” (17:9). From the Dead Sea Scrolls another example too has reference to angels:
“And exalt his exaltation to the heights, gods of the august divinities, and the divinity of his glory above all the august heights. For he is God of the gods … Sing with joy those of you enjoying his knowledge, with rejoicing among the wonderful gods … Praise him, divine spirits, praising for ever and ever the main vault of the heights … The spirits of the holy of the holy ones, the living gods, the spirits of everlasting holiness.” [4Q403, The Dead Sea Scrolls – The Qumran Texts in English, second edition, trans. by Wilfred G. E. Watson, ed. by Florentino Garcia Martinez (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996) 426-7.]
With respect to Psalm 8:5 there is no reason not to accept the appellation of elohim to angels in a true and proper sense other than theological predisposition. The author of Hebrews and the early translations did not shy from this understanding and it is consistent with early Jewish monotheism. These angels and the earthly temple were types of the true, the true God and the true temple in heaven, respectively.
Regarding John 17:3 it seems that my point was missed. The Bible identifies only the Father as the “true God” and the “one God.” It was not necessary for Jesus to expressly categorize the Father and then identify himself outside of that category, but he did. My opponent suggests we should not go about “assuming something the Bible doesn't say,” but this is the very thing he does in identifying Jesus as “the only true God.” Instead we should “read what the text is actually saying,” which is that it is the Father who falls into this category. To say then that Jesus is either “the only true God” or the “one God” necessitates reading one's theology into the Bible, the text lacking such identification. In John 17:3 Jesus had the opportunity to include himself within the category of “the only true God” as the one who existed “before the world was” (John 17:5). Rather than doing this he distinguished himself from this category, assigning only the Father to it. The prayer was that his disciples would know both him and his Father, yet he classified only his Father as “the only true God.” Had Jesus only used “us” instead of “you” the matter would have been resolved.
I must object to my opponent's claim that I “assume that if there is any difference between the Father and the Son, then the Son is not truly deity, which denies that a difference in function does not indicate an ontological inferiority in regards to the Son’s nature.” Never once do I make such a claim, nor would I. My arguments are generally based not on function but identification.
Finally the question is again raised of what kind of god Jesus is if not the true God. In my opening I noted that the Greek word translated “true” did not always mean the opposite is false, and such is the case with gods other than the true God that are so properly termed. This expression is not limited to “gods by nature” as my opponent must again import into the text. There is no problem with identifying Jesus as a god as in John 1:18 he is the “unique god.” He is “God” not without qualification, but in a relative sense with one who is 'his God” (Heb. 1:8-9). Hopefully the comments I have made on these texts and others will come to be responded to